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MRS. J. H. RIDDELL,
"GEORGE GEITH OF FEN COURT," " SUSAN DRUMMOND,'
IN THREE VOLUMES.
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON,
publishers in dDrbinarg to g^er Ipajestj) the (Quttrt.
[All Rights Reserved.}
COxNTENTS OF VOL. I.
I. MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEV -
II. MR. KATZEN'S NEWS
III. A PLAINT -
IV. IN THE OLD HOUSE
V. MRS. CHILDS INTERROGATED
VI. MISS WEIR
VII. MR. KATZEN'S LOVE
VIII. SUNDAY --.
IX. LESS THAN KIN -
X. MRS. CHILDS' THEORY -
XI. G. BRISCO -
XII. MOST LONELY
XIII. IN MITRE COURT -
XIV. "ABOUT ABIGAIL"
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY.
N Fowkes' Buildings, hard by Great
Tower Street, the curious reader
may still see a large mansion
which more than fifteen years ago was " run "
as a lodging-house by Mrs. Maria Jeffley.
There never existed a woman better fitted
for such an undertaking. Strong, energetic,
tireless, capable, Mrs. Jeffley made the
captains, mates, and various friends those
seafaring persons brought to the ''snuggest
port " in London, perfectly happy. That at
the same time she contrived to render Mr.
Jeffley almost miserable was in the lady's
VOL. i. I
judgment a point not worth considering.
Had he been differently constituted, his
home ought to have seemed an abode of
bliss to him — so the brisk Maria felt, and
justly. She was not answerable for his
John — or, as his friends preferred to call
him, Jack — Jeffley filled the position of ware-
houseman in the great firm of Deedes, Tun-
stall, Fulmer and Company, wine merchants,
who had offices in Dunstan Hill, and huge
vaults nearer to the Tower.
All their sfoods in those dim underground
cellars were under his hand. The manager
himself — who received a large salary and a
percentage on the profits of the concern ;
lived in his own house (freehold) at Forest
Hill, and gave dinner-parties, for which it
was stated, by persons behind the scenes,
Messrs. Deedes and Co. paid per arrange-
ment ; kept a phaeton and boy in buttons
for his wife's gratification, and, generally
speaking, " cut a dash " — was not really a
more important factor in the firm's prosperity
than plain Jack Jeffley, who only received a
modest weekly wage, and the summit of
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY.
whose earthly ambition was a small cottage
with a " bit of garden " which he might " keep
He could have realized this aspiration
years previously had Mrs. Jeffley been of
her husband's mind ; but Mrs. Jeffley, as
she not infrequently stated, had a different
sort of mind altogether from the individual
by a jocose fiction called her lord and
master. The quiet of a cottage surrounded
by a bit of garden would, so she declared,
"kill her." She did not want to sit down
and turn her dresses — she liked to buy
new ones, and give them out to be made
by Mrs. Mountly, who "fit her like a
glove, and kept three apprentices, and a
beautifully furnished house in Arbour Square
(where the drawing-room was good enough
for any lady in the land)."
Mrs. Jeffley "had no notion of letting
her children go about as if they were
beggars ; she did not mind slaving and
working her fingers to the bone " in order
to send them on Sunday mornings with
their rather abashed papa to their parish
church of All Hallows, Barking, clad in
rich apparel— sunny ringlets streaming over
their shoulders, and long, white, real ostrich ■
feathers in their hats, which well-nigh drove
the mothers of other children, no doubt
quite as nice, distracted with envy.
Even had she wished to accompany
Mr. Jeffley to church on Sunday mornings
— which she certainly never did — Mrs.
Jeffley with a "houseful of lodgers" might
have found it difficult to gratify her desire.
Sometimes, though not often, she repaired
in the afternoon of the first day in the
week to Hyde Park to see the latest novelty
in dress or shame, equipage or beauty ; and
occasionally she attended evening service
at the Abbey or St. Pauls, squired by one
or more of the many respectful admirers who
never wearied of singing their landlady's
" The cleverest woman you'd meet in the
length of a midsummer's day !" was the
chorus chanted by all Mrs. Jeffley's lodgers.
In his heart Jack Jeffley often wished it
had pleased God to make his wife a little
less clever, but he was far too loyal to say so.
Silently he resigned himself to this dis-
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY.
pensation of Providence, as to several other
troubles in his married life. If Mrs. Jeffley
did not maintain a like silence concerning
the cross of having a husband " without a
morsel of push in him," it must be remem-
bered she was a woman, and might have
broken her heart had she not sought and
obtained sympathy from the many, concern-
ing the shortcomings of a man who let her do
as she pleased, gave her almost all he earned,
and only asked to be allowed to keep one
little room, where he could sit and smoke
and read the paper in peace and quietness.
" If you were like anybody else," Mrs.
Jeffley frequently observed, "you might be of
a lot of use to me."
In reply to which genial remark Jack
Jeffley said nothing. He had the greatest
genius for saying nothing, which was indeed
well, since his wife's talent lay in quite
Though nominally master of the great
house in Fowkes' Buildings, Mr. Jeffley was
really merely a lodger in it, and a lodger less
esteemed and considered than any other
under the roof, not excepting Frank Scott
who, being a permanent inmate, young, poor,
and easy tempered, ranked as one " of the
family," and had to put up with being treated
accordingly. His bedroom was next the
slates, and if honest Jack had not made him
free of his own small den, the young fellow
must have confined himself to his narrow
chamber, or consorted with rum-drinking and
beer-swilling old salts, who, though excellent
persons, no doubt, spat, swore, and told
tough yarns, and whose conversation was
rather apt to pall after a not very long
Thanks to a lawyer's clerk, to whom, when
his fortunes were at low water, Mrs. Jeffley
had been extremely kind, that lady dis-
covered, long before the Married Women's
Property Act became law, according to the
"custom of the City of London" she could
trade independent of her husband, sue and
be sued, rent a house, carry on a business,
"keep what she made for herself," exactly
as if she had never seen John Jeffley.
This was before she started her boarding
establishment, and, it is not uncharitable to
conclude, the idea of having something free
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY.
from the control of the poor creature she had
vowed to obey determined Mrs. Jeffley to
persevere in her scheme.
Had Mr. Jeffrey's consent and co-opera-
tion been necessary, sea captains and others
must have found a suitable anchorage else-
where. The whole project was abhorrent to
him, if for no other reason than that already
Mrs. Jeffley had a person occasionally
lodging with her whom he hated as much as
it was in his nature to hate anybody ; he
hated him for three reasons, not one of which
will seem to a sensible reader sufficient to
account for even a moderate dislike.
In the first place, Mr. Karl Katzen was a
foreigner, and, like a loyal Englishman, Jack
Jeffley distrusted foreigners ; in the next, he
was "undersized" and "unwholesome-look-
ing," and Mr. Jeffley had a prejudice in
favour of large men whose appearance did
"credit to their keep."
" Katzen might be fed on chaff," he said
in later years to Frank Scott, and indeed
Mr. Katzen might have been fed on sawdust
for any good his food seemed to do him.
He was lean and sallow ; he had eyes of no
colour in particular ; he let his dark lank hair
grow long ; he wore no beard or moustache,
only a starved imperial ; presumably he some-
times washed himself, yet he never looked
clean. To big, burly Jack Jeffley, with his
crisp brown hair, well-kept whiskers, clear
complexion, tanned and freckled though it
was ; frank mouth full of white good teeth,
all of which he showed when he laughed, and
heart that, though prejudiced, was full of the
milk of human kindness, this inscrutable
German was a standing affront.
For he had brains, such as they were ;
and jack Jeffrey's head might have been
cleft open without finding more than just
served to enable him to fulfil his duty to
his employers. He did not possess enough
mind to make him even think of doing-
wrong. Fifty millions of money or money's
worth might have been left at Jack Jeffrey's
mercy, and he would never have set him-
self to consider how easily he could abstract,
say, a thousand pounds.
He was very stupid indeed, according to
Two reasons, or non-reasons, have been
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY.
given why Mr. Jeffley disliked Mr. Katzen ;
another remains behind. It is only fair to
say Mr. Jeffley fought hard against it.
He argued that no better was to be
expected "off" (truth compels the con-
fession that thus Mrs. Jeffley's husband
worded his sentence) "a fool of a foreigner,"
and consequently Jack really did try to for-
give him, but he could not. Very often he
fancied he had not merely forgiven but for-
gotten, and then suddenly the whole thing
would recur to his memory, and at his work
or walking along the street he again felt the
hot blood rushing into his face, and tingling
to his fingers' ends.
And really poor Mr. Katzen's offence
ought not to have been regarded as the
unpardonable sin. To Jack Jeffley, how-
ever, it seemed the same sort of crime
that poisoning a fox would to a master of
Jack came in his way of well-to-do people.
His father and. his father's father had farmed
their own land since the Conquest or there-
about. They were yeomen, they were never
rich, or great, or grand. Nevertheless they
could trace a pedigree calculated to put to
shame many a mushroom lord. They had
fought for their country, they had poured
out their blood for worthless kings they
never saw, and died for principles they did
not comprehend. Yet not one of them rose
above the rank in which he was born ; titles
and pensions, orders and bishoprics, are not
for those who only perform yeomen's work ;
rather as the years went on, and times
changed — and the Jeffleys did not change
with the times — matters grew worse with
Old acres did not mean the same profit as
formerly. Though meat grew dearer, cattle
did not return so much money ; labour had
to be better paid ; the very earth seemed
to yield her increase less willingly than of
yore ; — it was thus it came to pass that,
finding things drifting from bad to ruin,
John Jeffley left home, and sought his for-
tune in London.
But before he did this, he had learned to
love the country and all country pursuits,
and though he trod the stony streets con-
tentedly enough, his fancy was for ever
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY.
roaming along the field-paths of his native
county ; and as each spring returned to
gladden the earth memory parted once
again the interlacing branches which covered
some bird's nest, while in the autumn days
at heart he strode across his father's stubble
once more, and raised his gun and brought
down partridge and hare and pheasant on
the land which had passed from him and
his for ever. No man knew the points of
a horse better than Jack Jeffley ; he could
ride well ; when he took the reins, anyone
might have felt secure in sitting beside
him ; he had the natural vanity a good
driver feels ; and yet once when he gave
Mr. Katzen a lift in his employers' dogcart,
that " blanked, blanked dirty little German,'
to modify his more vigorous expression con-
cerning that gentleman, finding the vehicle
between the Charybdis of an omnibus and
the Scylla of a lumbering wool-van, actually
gave the off-rein a pull which as nearly as
possible " landed us in the very mess the
fool was afraid, of."
Anything else in reason Mr. Jeffley might
have looked over, but the united cowardice
and unwisdom of Mr. Katzen's act stuck — to
quote his own very words — " in his gizzard."'
" How should you feel," he said to Mr.
Frank Scott, " if a fellow — and that fellow
a damned foreigner — laid his hands on the
reins when you were driving ? I wonder I
did not pitch him neck and crop out of the
And Mr. Frank Scott — who indeed knew
as little about horses, and driving, and riding,
except what he had learned from Mr. Jeffley
himself, as a young gentleman could — was
nevertheless sufficient of a friend and a
Saxon to wonder how his host, smarting
under such provocation, had forborne from
crippling Mr. Katzen for life.
Mrs. Jeffley took a different view of the
affair. " Bosh !" she said when her worser
half tried to make her understand the full
enormity of which "the damned foreigner"
had been guilty. " You are nothing but a
And that was all the sympathy Jack Jeffley
received from his wife.
Years had passed since that little episode,
but when this story opens it still rankled in
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY. 13
Mr. Jeffrey's heart. As has been said, he
intuitively hated Mr. Katzen, wherein
perhaps his instinct was not altogether
wrong ; but he dealt out injustice to Mrs.
Jeffrey's friend in imagining the German
encouraged that estimable woman in her fads
and fancies, and fostered those differences
which were the plague of poor Jack's life.
Jack was but human, and never having
understood his wife, it came natural to him
to attribute those faults which rendered his
home less comfortable than it might have
been, to the influence of anything or anyone
rather than to the nature of the divine Maria.
Loyalty plays men and women many a scurvy
trick, but never a worse one than that of
attributing to external sources the fouling of
a spring which contains in itself the elements
Mr. Jeffrey would not see the whole worry
of his existence lay in his wife's mental vanity.
She thought herself so extremely clever that
all her husband's ways seemed utter foolish-
ness in her eyes.
Many women who do nothing, fall into
a similar error concerning their husbands'
14 MITRE COURT.
business incompetence ; therefore it is per-
haps not quite surprising that Mrs. Jeffley,
who did a great deal, should regard her lord
as a mere cumberer of the ground. This
view of Mr. Jeffley, which had been growing
and flourishing for many years, was entirely
her own. Mr. Katzen's share in it was
absolutely nil. He did not foster any depre-
ciatory ideas on the subject of Mr. Jeffley's
abilities — quite the contrary. He was wont
to laugh a dry ungenial laugh and tell the
lady she knew nothing about men, and men's
work — that she was too well off — that if her
husband beat her, or drank, or was unfaithful,
she would love the ground on which his
shadow fell. " But," Mr. Katzen was wont
to continue, " being only a good fellow,
and devoted to you and his children, you
can't find one pleasant word to say about
There was indeed nothing Mr. Katzen had
much less patience with than to hear Mrs.
Jeffley holding forth concerning Mr. Jeffley's
shortcomings. His own life was so stormy
out of doors he loved peace within. He had
no idea of disturbing his host's conjugal peace.
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY. 15
" Bah !" he would declare to Mrs. Jeffley,
speaking between jest and earnest, " much as
I like you, my friend, deeply grateful to you
as I am and ought to be, I would not marry
you were you hung with diamonds."
" That is because you are so clever your-
self," Mrs. Jeffley would answer in foolish
explanation. Then Mr. Katzen was wont to
look in the lady's face with a dubious smile,
and remark :
" Dear madame, you are not half so clever
as you imagine. All those stupid old Nep-
tunes are leading you quite astray — not of
malice prepense perhaps, but they gaze at
you through spectacles of self-interest ; you
cannot expect your lodgers to tell the truth
when you make them so comfortable."
"No one, at all events, can accuse you of
flattery," Mrs. JefHey often retorted.
" That is because I have far too great a
regard for you," was the plausible explana-
tion ; and indeed, so far as Mr. Katzen was
capable of feeling a regard for anyone, he did
entertain some sentiment of the kind for the
woman who had always believed in, and
stuck fast to him through all sorts of chances
i6 MITRE COURT.
and changes — trusted and helped him, and
given sympathy as well as many much more
tangible proofs of confidence and friendship.
Still, it was a bore that she would not con-
ciliate her husband. How comfortable and
friendly they might all have been together in
Jack Jeffrey's little den, where Mr. Katzen
never could flatter himself Jack felt glad to
welcome anyone except Frank Scott ! How
useful Mr. Jeffrey might have been to him
in a hundred ways ! How much better a
man's help than a woman's ! How far pre-
ferable the assistance of a rational male crea-
ture than any amount of kindness from a
lady who needed the most skilful handling,
who believed herself a diplomatist, a general,
an administrator, and a financier !
" She thinks because she can manage her
house that she could rule a kingdom," thought
Mr. Katzen, with a shrug of his lean shoul-
ders ; " but there, she is a good soul, though
a vain simpleton. Over and over again, my
Karl, you might have known what it was to
lack a meal — many meals — but for the amaz-
ing faith of Maria Jeffrey. And she has
found no cause to repent her confidence.
MR. AND MRS. JEFF LEY. 17
No, there may be, as report states, people I
have not paid, but Mrs. Jeffley is not among
Either report must have lied horribly, or
else Mr. Katzen in the course of his life had
paid very few people indeed. In many
places there was an opinion he discharged
no debt he could evade, and as we are often
told there is never smoke without fire, it is
quite probable that Mr. Katzen's erratic
course through this wicked world might have
been traced by the smouldering fires of un-
Under his rightful name of Karl Katzen-
stein, he had in his days of comparative
innocence involved himself in such pecuniary
trouble that he was compelled to leave his
Fatherland and seek better fortune in the
United States, where both he and those who
trusted him fared badly. After all, a man
must learn his trade somehow ; and if Mr.
Katzenstein found but little gold stick to
his fingers while serving his apprenticeship
as adventurer, who can judge him harshly on
that account ? He gained skill and experi-
ence ; and finally, thinking he had acquired
vol. 1. 2
as much knowledge as America was likely
to teach him, he decided to bid that country
farewell, and give Great Britain the benefit
of his talents. It was then he made Mrs.
Jeffley's acquaintance, and a very useful one
he found her. Many a time he must have
gone out breakfastless in the morning, and
repaired to bed supperless at night, if the
lady's faith in him had not been unbounded.
And he never cheated her, never once.
No, though he often went away for months
together, he always came back and discharged
He told her many of his troubles, dis-
coursed to her concerning some of his plans
— a man must have some one to talk to — -
and Mrs. Jeffley's sympathy with the German
was so complete he found it better to talk to
her than anybody else.
She thought him the cleverest person in
the world. He could speak five languages
fluently, and had a smattering of Russian
besides; and poor Mrs. Jefrley, who could
only utter her thoughts in English, and
English often not the most correct, considered
the way Mr. Katzen — he deemed it well, for
MR. AND MRS. JEFF LEY. 19
reasons which it is unnecessary here to state,
to dock his name of the final "stein " when
he took passage for England — was able to
discourse with persons of many nationalities
little short of miraculous. It seemed to her
simple mind as good as conjuring ; and
though she was honest herself as the day, the
tricks by which he could get money " where
another man would starve " excited her
warmest admiration. She knew she found
it hard enough to make both ends meet on
Jack's regular wages. How Mr. Katzen
could go out some days without a sixpence
and come back with full pockets struck her
as most extraordinary. Here was a person
whose acquaintance was indeed something
to be proud of. " Ah ! if poor Jack had been
like him !" Mrs. Jeffiey would probably not
have started her lodging-house, of which
Mr. Katzen was so honoured an inmate.
What did she not get for his benefit ? — a
" tasty morsel " for breakfast ; a good juicy
steak for dinner, which Mr. Katzen kindly
ate, though under protest, "because," as he
said, " you do so spoil your excellent beef by
your barbarous cookery" — "A fellow, I'll
2 — 2
be bound," grumbled Jack Jeffley, "who
never got anything better than sour cabbage
and kickshaws in his own country !" — fruit by
the bushel, pastry light and flaky, puddings
cunningly concocted ; literally it was with
Mrs. Jeffley a labour of love, catering for his
excellent appetite. Peas for him were always
dressed with sugar ; the salads he affected
were smothered in oil, " till they were not
fit for a dog," again to quote Mr. Jeffley,
while according to the same authority " it
was enough to make a man do something
desperate" to see trout boiled, and boiled
with vinegar. At the time we first meet
them, Mr. Jeffley had long ceased to express
his opinions to Mrs. Jeffley concerning the
d — — -d German, but he held to them very
A person without an ostensible calling,
who had no regular employment and no
business anybody could comprehend, who
was scarcely ever in his office, if a " bit of a
box stolen off the landing " in a house close at
hand " could be called an office," about which
Mr. Jeffley had his doubts, was never likely
to do much o;ood for himself or anvbodyelse;
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY.
and what he, Jack, wanted to know was, why
he should be waited upon "hand and foot"
as if he were Rothschild or the Chancellor of
Jack was sadly jealous of Mr. Katzen.
But he need not have been. Karl's attach-
ment to Mrs. Jeffley was strictly platonic,
and perhaps a little gastronomic, while Mrs.
Jeffley's feeling for him entertained no
thought of disloyalty to her husband.
Naturally she did not care to hear Mr.
Katzen sing the praises of any other woman,
but that was nothing. As a rule, even men
are not fond of hearing their acquaintances
extolled, considering commendation of this
sort a species of indirect reproach to them-
selves. In this respect there is not much
difference between one sex and another, and
for that matter not a great deal to choose
between animals and human beings. At heart
most persons feel the same sort of pleasure in
hearing anyone else extolled that a dog does
in seeing a cat stroked, only civilization has
taught us to dissemble our feelings, while the
dog gives tongue to his in the frankest
Mrs. Jeffley, somewhat after the fashion of
an animal, allowed her discontent to evidence
itself, and Mr. Katzen often took an unamiable
pleasure in stroking her fur the wrong way.
He knew his friend thoroughly — -knew
exactly what would annoy and what gratify
her; and more than half his apparently care-
less utterances had a point and meaning in
them unintelligible to outsiders.
John Jeffley felt, however, many of the
German's remarks held a sting, and though
he was not clever enough to perceive exactly
where the sting lay, he resented them for his
"If she could only see the little wasp as I
see him," he thought, " she'd know he is not
an insect ought to be buzzing about a respect-
The years had come, and the years had
gone, however, and on Whit Monday,
eighteen hundred and sixty odd, Mr. Katzen
was still " buzzing about" Fowkes' Buildings
in a very persistent manner.
For some time affairs with him had been
at very low tide indeed ; but for Mrs. Jeffley's
timely help he must have raised money on his
MR. AND MRS. JEFFLEY. 23
watch and ring, massive chain and diamond
studs, breastpin, and various other articles by
which he set great store, and which, indeed,
poor Jack Jeffley's wife believed reflected
credit on the establishment. She had heard
Mr. Katzen's valuables remarked upon, ap-
praised, envied, and she often did wish, " that
she did," her husband's nature contained a
spark of ambition. "We might all be so
differently off,'' she considered, " and John
have as fine a ring as Karl Katzen, to say
nothing of my seeing some chance of leisure,
instead of working my fingers to the bone in
No one wanted Mrs. Jeffley to work her
fingers to the bone anywhere ; but this was
one of the many little fictions which enabled
the ill-used lady to pose as a martyr before the
eyes of admiring friends.
Mr. Jeffley and Frank Scott had employed
their rare holiday in visiting a friend who
farmed a little land near East Ham, and as
twilight was drawing in, they found them-
selves on their way home once more in Great
Tower Street, a trifle tired, perhaps, but in
good order and condition.
Their playtime was over, but they had
enjoyed it thoroughly. Frank Scott carried
a huge bunch of flowers that scented the
road and filled the hearts of passers-by with
envy, while Jack bore a basket containing a
precious freight of new-laid eggs and golden
butter, which he meant to keep for his own
table, and give share to "no captain, or mate,
or scrubby foreigner on earth."
He had for the sixth time repeated this
determination with great energy, when an
unexpected sight met his eyes. Coming
leisurely along Great Tower Street from the
City, he beheld one foreigner he would have
felt happy never to see again.
" Why, here's that Katzen fellow," he said,
turning to his companion. " I thought we
were rid of him for a week or two, at any
" What can have brought him back ?" mar-
velled Frank Scott.
" No good, you may be sure."
" He told me on Saturday morning he was
£oinQf to Paris."
" I wish he would go there and stay
MR. AND MRS. JEFF LEY.
" Hush ! — he will hear you," expostulated
Frank, for Mr. Jeffley in an access of energy
had raised his voice somewhat unduly.
" I don't care whether he does or not !"
said Jack, lowering his tone, however.
MR. KATZEN S NEWS.
i ERE I am, you see, like a bad
% sixpence!" exclaimed Mr. Katzen
0<||y gaily, at the same time extending
his hand, which Mr. Jeffley felt forced to
take, and shake with a heartiness he was
far from feeling.
" We thought you were on the other side
of the water," he observed, merely because
no other remark occurred to him.
" I did not even start," said Mr. Katzen ;
<; I got a piece of unexpected news after I
left you on Saturday, which changed all my
" Good news, I hope ?" suggested Mr.
"Well, you shall judge of that presently,'"'
MR. KATZEN'S NEWS. V
answered the foreigner ; " let us go into your
room for a minute and summon your wife ;
you stay too, Scott — I cannot have one friend
absent while I tell what I have to tell."
" He is going to be married, Frank," said
Mr. Jeffley, who had already, with stentorian
lungs, shouted for " Maria!" "Wife!" " Mrs.
Jeffley!" till a shrill "What's wanted with
Mrs. Jeffley now ? Oh! be quiet, do. I'm
cominof," assured him his better half was on
her way from the upper regions.
" No; I am not going to be married, that I
know of, just yet," said Mr. Katzen, in reply
to the remark about matrimony. " I may be,
though, for "
At that juncture the end of Mr. Katzen's
sentence was cut short for ever by a series of
wifely expostulations emanating from Mrs.
Jeffley as she came along the passage.
" John, I wonder at you, screaming the
house down, and Captain Hassell gone to
bed and all. What do you want ?" she finished,
entering Jack's room, which was almost in
total darkness, owing to the narrowness of
the court called Fowkes' Buildings and the
"What do I want ?" repeated her husband,
who was accustomed to such forms of conju-
gal endearment. " Bless you, I want nothing
— but here's Mr. Katzen home, brimful of
good news, and he won't tell Frank and me
what it is till you are quite at leisure to listen
"Mr. Katzen !" exclaimed Mrs. Jeffley, in
astonishment, " I did not see you. Frank,
light the gas."
" Yes, Frank, light the gas," capped Mr.
Jeffley, with a solemn gravity which on any
stage must have brought down the house.
" Here are matches, my boy."
" I never thought of seeing you," exclaimed
Mrs. Jeffley, addressing Mr. Katzen, her face
literally beaming with smiles.
" No more did I," supplemented Jack,
in a tone which really meant, " No such
luck ;" but neither his wife nor Mr. Katzen
" You told me you would be away for a
fortnight at least," went on the lady.
" Yes ; but I did not then know what was
going to happen."
" Why, what has happened ?" asked Mrs.
MR. KATZEN'- S NEWS. 29
Jeffley. " I can tell from your manner it is
nothing very unpleasant."
" It is nothing unpleasant — quite the other
thing. It is just this : I am appointed Con-
sul for New Andalusia ;" and Mr. Katzen,
who had delivered his astounding intelligence
in a voice he could scarcely steady, so great
was his exultation, paused for the clapping
and huzzaing he felt should follow.
Instead there ensued a dead silence, which
was broken at length by Mr. Jeffley asking :
" Where the dickens is New Andalusia ?"
"In South America," answered the new
Consul, a little sulkily.
" Then you will be leaving us !" cried Mrs.
Jeffley, forgetting to congratulate her friend
in the despair caused by the idea he would
have to cross the sea and remain across it.
" Leaving you — for what reason ?" re-
turned Mr. Katzen, who, wrapped up in his
own fresh importance, had failed to follow
the lady's line of thought.
" Because you will of course have to go
and live in that country with the strange
" Live there ! — not so. Oh no ! — I am
Consul for New Andalusia in England,
not Consul for England in New Anda-
" Make yourself quite easy, wife," inter-
posed Mr. Jeffley ; " we are not going to lose
Mr. Katzen yet awhile."
" That is a very kind way of putting the
matter," said Mr. Katzen. " A Frenchman
could not have phrased the matter more
happily ; and what enhances the value of
the compliment is, that you are always what
a Frenchman sometimes is not — utterly sin-
He could not have refrained from the
sneer, no matter what had come of it ; but
nothing at all came of it, save that Jack
Jeffley turned very red, and shifting awk-
wardly from one foot to the other, muttered
some word about his being "sincere enough,
if that was all."
"And so far," said Frank Scott — who, if
he were young and poor, and unconsidered
by the lodgers Mrs. Jeffley looked after and
believed in, had yet a ready wit and a plea-
sant manner of his own — " not one of us has
expressed the smallest satisfaction concerning
MR. KATZEN' S NEWS. 31
Mr. Katzen's good fortune. Shall I speak
first, Mr. Jeffley, or will you ?"
" I am always glad to hear about anybody
doing well," answered Jack, a little awk-
wardly. " Mr. Katzen knows that ; and I
hope with all my heart this appointment
may land him in clover one day."
" And so do I," cried Mrs. Jeffley. " Mr.
Katzen, you may be sure, with all my heart,
I wish you prosperity. It ought not to need
words to tell you that."
" No," answered Mr. Katzen, taking the
lady's outstretched hand in both of his ;
" actions speak louder than words, and your
actions have spoken loudly to me for many a
" I scarcely count, I suppose," added
Frank Scott; "but I cannot help saying
I am rejoiced to hear of your good for-
" For it is really good fortune, I suppose,"
suggested Mrs. Jeffley ; " it must be, or you
would not look so pleased."
"It is such good fortune," replied Mr.
Katzen, "that if Mrs. Childs could manage
anywhere to get us a couple of bottles of
32 MITRE COURT.
decent champagne, I should like to see
glasses filled in its honour ;" and as the new
Consul spoke, he put his hand in his pocket
and drew forth a quantity of coin, amongst
which sovereigns were as plentiful as shillings.
" Bless and save us !" thought Jack Jeffley ;
" do they pay them in advance ?" But he
only said aloud, " There is no need to send
Mrs. Childs on any such wild-goose chase —
we have best part of a dozen still left of that
Catawba young Morson brought me from
America ; and though you may not think
much of it, you'll find it a far better wine
than anything Mrs. Childs is likely to get
from a tavern on a Whit Monday night.
And look here, Mr. Katzen — I know my
wife has a bit of supper ready ; take share
of it with us. I need not tell you, when
Mrs. Jeffley is the provider, there will be
plenty and to spare."
" There is nothing but cold beef," said
Mrs. Jeffley sadly.
" Well, what can be better than cold
beef?" asked Mr. Jeffley.
" Especially with a good salad ! Let me
mix the salad," entreated Mr. Katzen.
MR. KATZEN' S NEWS. 33
" Certainly, if you leave my name out of
it," said Mr. Jeffley.
" True, I forgot you like to eat your
lettuce raw," said Mr. Katzen.
" And so I do," remarked Frank Scott ;
" and Mrs. Jeffley objects to oil, and cares
only for vinegar."
" Oh, you English, how funny you are !"
' ; We are not the only funny people in
the world, that is one comfort," retorted Mr.
" We have not even the monopoly of
queerness !" added Frank Scott, who was
always ready with some word likely to avert
" Though you are very queer," returned
Mr. Katzen. " By-the-bye, I have not yet
thanked you for your invitation, Mr. Jeffley,
which I shall do myself the honour of accept-
ing. I go to brush a little of the day's dust
from my person, and then I return. An
" You never said anything truer than
that," observed Mr. Jeffley, as the door
closed behind his wife and her lodger.
11 Ail revoir, indeed — faith, it is always
VCL. 1. 3
31 MITRE COURT.
revoir /" and Jack's face assumed an ex-
pression he meant to be sarcastic, but which
was only comical. " Read me this riddle,
Frank : what is there about our little friend
to inspire devotion ? Under the pretence of
telling Jane to lay a cover for him, my wife
has gone to put on her best bib and tucker
in his honour, and if I am not much mis-
taken she will take half-a-dozen of those
new-laid eggs to make him an omelette.
Then, as though all that were not enough,
some one goes and gets him an appoint-
ment as Consul — and we are all forced in
consequence to tell untruths and say we
feel glad "
" So I do — and so ought you," answered
" And why, pray ?"
" Because, now he is getting up in the
world, he will very probably leave Fowkes'
" Leave Fowkes' Buildings ! He knows a
trick worth two of that."
" I am not so sure — besides, he may
marry. If that handful of gold means any-
thing, it means the ability to get money."
MR. KA TZEN 'S NEWS. 35
" I believe it to be all a flash in the pan."
" You will find yourself mistaken, I hope,"
answered Frank; "and you know, Mr.
Jeffley, you are glad the man has got a
good berth — you couldn't wish ill to your
" I should not like to see him brought
home on a stretcher, with a broken neck —
if that is what you mean — but I can't take
to the fellow. Hang it ! I really did mean
to be civil to him ; but I am sorry now I
asked him for supper. Those good eggs
wasted in an omelette stick in my throat."
" Don't meet trouble half-way," advised
the young man. "Anyhow, console your-
self with the assurance that they won't stick
Mr. Jeffley burst into a hearty peal of
laughter. " That they won't, I warrant,"
he said. " I only wish they would — no I
don't. It would vex me if ill came to him
in my house, and perhaps, after all, he is
not so bad as I think him."
Mr. Francis Scott wisely refrained from
speech. Mr. Katzen must have been very
bad indeed had he outstripped the measure
of iniquity that gentleman considered him
capable of compassing.
" He is as bad a lot as ever drew breath,"
he thought ; " and though honest Jack has
no need to be jealous, it will be a blessed day
when he takes his departure. Consul ! I
wonder what sort of people the New Anda-
lusians can be when they choose him for
representative. But he'll not stay long in
Fowkes' Buildings. That, to quote Mr. Jeffrey,
is as sure as God made little apples."
Considering the diversity of temperaments
gathered around the supper-table the meal
did not go off so badly. Mr. Jeffrey beheld
Mr. Katzen turn back his cuffs, smell the
oil, hold the vinegar up to the light, put in
a spoonful of this, and add a pinch of that,
without audible remark. He was good-
natured about the eggs, and he pressed the
butter on the foreigner's notice ; he refrained
from speech, though he considered that Mr.
Katzen's nose assumed a disdainful ex-
pression as it inhaled the bouquet of the
Catawba ; while on his side the new Consul
preserved an eloquent silence when Jack,
after draining off about a pint of ale, declared
MR. KATZEN'S NEWS.
honest malt liquor like that was worth the
whole of the sparkling wine in bond.
They were all in the happiest mood ;
Jack thinking pleasantly about that matri-
monial suggestion hazarded by Scott, " a
young fellow who has far more in him than
anybody might imagine," as he often
declared ; Mr. Katzen full of delightful
plans for the future ; Mrs. Jeffley eagerly
" You will now take that beautiful ground-
floor office you have been hankering after
so long, I suppose," she hazarded, in one of
the pauses of the repast.
" Only wish I could," answered Mr.
Katzen ; " but old Brisco let it last Septem-
ber. I know he is ready to cry with
vexation, for he can neither get rent from
his tenant, who is a bad man, nor induce
him to go. He wanted me to wait, but I
said: 'No, my friend; while I had little
money I was forced to wait. I will never
wait again, if I can help it.' "
"Just like you!" remarked Mrs. Jeffley
" No— no," went on Mr. Katzen, who, if
3S MITRE COURT.
he had found the Catawba wanting in many
things he considered desirable, could not
at least accuse the wine of lacking strength.
" I wait no more. I have had my turn —
let the others now take their turn. I have
already got an office better situated than
Botolph Lane, where I can do good for
you ? " and he nodded to Frank Scott.
" Thank you, Mr. Katzen," answered that
youth ; " it is very kind of you to think of me."
" I think of all my friends," said Mr.
Katzen solemnly. " I am not, as some,
forgetful in prosperity. The office I have
got is in Mitre Court — as calm, as quiet as
the old house. I should have preferred the
old house, though — my luck in it was
always well ; but it may be I shall have
more and better luck in Mitre Court."
"Where is Mitre Court?" asked Mrs.
Jeffiey, just as her husband had asked the
latitude and longitude of New Andalusia.
"Off Milk Street, clear friend; but I shall
drop the Milk and substitute Wood Street.
It is all as one."
" And what is your work ?" inquired Jack
Jeffley, beautifully practical,
MR. KATZEN' S NEWS. 39
Mr. Katzen, who at the moment was peel-
ing an American apple, suspended his occu-
pation, and accurately balancing the fruit-
knife on the first finger of his left hand, re-
" To do the very best I can for my-
" A rather vague answer," said Mr. Jeffley.
" I can't give you a better yet," answered
Mr. Katzen. " Remember, I am only now
in my new capacity — three days old. Give
me a little more time, and I shall be able to
tell you all. If I serve my adopted country
well, I must, I should hope, serve myself
well also. Take it for all in all, there is no
such land on earth. Blessed in its climate,
its government, its population, its minerals,
its forests, its situation, its harbours, its
capacities for producing grain and raising
cattle, there is nothing under heaven New
Andalusia needs except to be brought into
closer connection with Great Britain ; and,"
finished Mr. Katzen, " I feel I am destined
to bring about her espousals."
"Bravo!" exclaimed Mr. Jeffley. "All I
hope is, the marriage may not prove dis-
4o MITRE COURT.
astrous to Great Britain. We have taken
to ourselves a lot of wives, and one way or
another they have managed to give us a
heap of bother."
" This wife shan't," said Mr. Katzen.
" No, not more than your dear best half,
looking radiantly beautiful, seated opposite
The illustration was so exquisitely un-
happy, that Frank Scott felt compelled to
put his hand to his mouth in order to conceal
" My best half doesn't look amiss," said
Mr. Jeffley, wisely ignoring the first part of
the foreigner's remark, and looking across
the table with a proud and loving glance,
in which there was mingled a dash of sad-
ness unutterably pathetic ; " but we won't
praise her to her face for fear — as she tells
the young ones sometimes — of making her
"If hearing the truth could have spoiled
Mrs. Jeffley, she must have lost her sweet
simplicity long ago."
" Mrs. Jeffley is not simple," interposed
that lady, with a laugh, " and she does not
MR. KATZEN'S NEWS. 41
want any more compliments ; she knows all
they are worth. Seriously, I am so sorry
you cannot get those two beautiful offices ;
I wanted some day to see the old painted
panels, and the fine chimney-pieces."
" I should have liked well, too, to see you
puzzling your wise head over the Indians,
and the animals, and the tropical trees. The
series of paintings constitutes, I suppose, a
whole story ; but what that story may be no
one can tell now. There are two funny
fellows riding on a rhinoceros, and there are
others gathering; tobacco-leaves, and there
are chariots drawn by some sort of deer, and
something like a church, and white people,
and sea and mountains. Ah, good Lord !
and am not I sorry ! it has just occurred to
me that I could have said the tale the panels
told me was the colonization and civilization
and Christianizing of New Andalusia. More,
as I stated before, I have always had good
luck in that old house ; whenever I have left
it to better myself, worse has followed. Well,
I must try to get back there after a while.
The old man believes in me. For all he
42 MITRE COURT.
" Why do you not finish your sentence,
Mr. Katzen ?" asked Jack maliciously.
" Himmel ! because it cuts against my-
self," answered Mr. Katzen, with appalling
frankness. " I was going to say, for all he
is so keen, so astute, so far-seeing, he has a
faith in my power I have often lacked myself.
To be sure, I have always paid him his rent,
but that was mostly, perhaps, because he
chanced to be too poor to do without
" Why, I should have thought a man who
owned such a house must be well-to-do," said
Mrs. Jeffley, for whom the mystery associated
with her lodger's landlord had always pos-
sessed the fascination something unexplained
of necessity holds for common-place minds.
" He doesn't own the house — he rents it,"
explained Mr. Katzen for at least the fiftieth
time ; " and then he has to pay rates and
taxes, and get his money back as he can.
What with one loss and another, and no
business to speak of, and the wretched way
he keeps the house, he must be as poor as
our ancient friend Job, or our more modern
acquaintance the church-mouse. Unless, in-
MR. KA TZEN ' 5 NE WS. 43
deed " added Mr. Katzen, struck by a
Frank Scott lifted his head as the foreigner
paused, and said, as if amused :
"You are leaving all your sentences un-
finished, Mr. Katzen, to-night. Unless
" ' Unless' was only a sudden idea which
occurred to me," replied Mr. Katzen. " I
thought it meant something, but really it
amounts to nothing at all. No man on earth
would make such a believe about poverty as
to eat as Brisco eats, lodge as Brisco lodges,
live as Brisco lives, and dress as Brisco
" How does the man live, then ?" asked
" Like a pauper," was the answer. " He
goes to bed as soon as the offices are closed,
to save light and fuel ; to my knowledge he
has worn the same old coat for the last six
years ; he never spends a farthing on 'bus
fare ; he manages somehow to exist on a diet
which would starve a dog — dry bread, and
milk and water, for breakfast ; an apple, and
bread again, for dinner. He once bought a
44 MITRE COURT.
pennyworth of herrings when they were six
a penny, and I know he had not finished
them at the end of a fortnight. It is miser-
able to see him."
" Dear me !" cried kindly Mrs. Jeffley ;
"and to think of all the things we have left
over here — things Mrs. Childs and her niece
can't get through. There is a quart of
beautiful soup, all of a jelly, in the house
" I shouldn't advise you to send it to Mr.
Brisco, that's all," said Mr. Katzen. " I never
shall forget the way he snapped off my nose
one day when I proposed he should come out
and have some dinner with me, I to pay the
piper. I remarked, innocently enough, I
thought he must be tired of stale bread and
fruit, and that I should really enjoy seeing
him eat a cut off a good joint for once. In
a moment he had fanned himself into a white
heat of passion. He was in such a rage, even
his lips grew white. He is colourless and
bloodless enough at the best ; but he got ab-
solutely livid, and he drew himself up — up till
I found myself looking at him with my chin
lifted, and my head thrown back. ' Sir,' he
MR. KATZEN'S NEWS. 45
said, ' if you choose to swiil ale all day, it is no
affair of mine ; if I prefer to live like a Chris-
tian, it is no affair of yours.' No, no ! dear
generous madam e ; take my advice, and send
no cups of broth, or pieces of cake, or scraps
of pudding, to my friend in Botolph Lane.
If you do, you will most likely see them walk
back again to your front door with a message
you won't relish."
" Faith, I think the old fellow is right,
though," interposed Mr. Jeffley. "A man
may be poor, but he needn't be a beggar."
" I don't consider a man ought to count
himself anything of the kind, if he lets a
friend stand him a dinner," retorted Mr.
" Yes, if he can't return the civility," per-
sisted Jack manfully.
" What do you say, Scott ? Judge between
us," said the new Consul.
" You should not refer to me," answered
the young fellow, flushing a little. ' ; I am
under far too many obligations here to be
able to speak impartially."
" Tut, tut !" cried Mr. Jeffley, stretching
out a stalwart arm, and touching Frank on
46 MITRE COURT.
the shoulder. " You are under no obligation,
none at all. Quite the other way."
" I am sure," added Mrs. Jeffley, " you
have never had anything in this house but
what you paid for most honourably."
" There are things which cannot be paid
for," murmured Frank Scott, with a tremor
in his voice, and a look in his downcast face
which filled Mrs. Jeffley with a feeling as like
self-reproach as that estimable lady was ca-
pable of experiencing.
For a moment she was rent by a spasm of
compunction. During the cold weather she
had dealt out blankets sparingly, she had
stripped his room whenever anybody else
required pillows, or crockery, or looking-glass,
or strips of carpet. She had stinted him in
towels and chairs, and given him yellow soap,
and docked the lad of fifty small luxuries
which would have cost her little and been
much to him, and yet he never complained,
but seemed grateful.
But no, she thought, he was grateful only
to Jack, only to her as being Jack's wife ; and
the foolish woman, who could not understand
the patience and affection of both husband
' MR. KATZEN'S NEWS. 47
and lodger, the male tolerance of female short-
comings, the male thankfulness for such kind-
ness and attention as modern civilization
permits the "weaker vessel" to evince,
hardened her heart once more against Frank
Scott, whom she had long previously decided
to be as poor a creature as Jack Jeffley.
Prosperity is too strong a tonic for some
natures. Prosperity had been a very bad
medicine indeed for Mrs. Jeffley.
" And does that girl," she asked hastily,
reverting to the original question, " also live
on dry bread, apples, and herrings ?"
" I should say not," answered Mr. Katzen,
lifting a pair of sleepy eyes. " Judging from
her appearance she lives on the fat of the
land. She is getting extremely pretty —
growing in grace with God and man. If she
were well dressed she would astonish the
natives hereabouts. What a figure she has !
What a little spitfire she is !"
" Mrs. Childs always said she w T as a nasty
sly cat," commented Mrs. Jeffley.
" Upon the whole I think Mrs. Childs was
wrong. She may be a cat, but she is not
nasty — quite the contrary. She is what you
43 MITRE COURT.
English are so fond of calling ' nice.' She
is well-favoured, well-shaped, good to look
upon, good to talk to, even when she flares
up and lets that big temper of hers blaze out."
" Blaze out ! To whom ?"
"Well, to me, for example," said Mr.
Katzen, laughing, as if the whole matter were
a most excellent joke. "' I have known her
so long, I have known her so utterly, any-
body might have thought she could not fail
to understand Karl Katzen. Yet to-day, if
you believe me, she figuratively buried every
claw she owns in this poor flesh of mine."
"What had you done to her ?" asked Mr.
" Done ! — I done ! — upon my sacred oath,
nothing. All I said was, ' Look here, Abby :
a great stroke of luck has come to me ; get
yourself a new dress on the strength of it,'
and I laid down a sovereign."
" Yes ?" said Mrs. Jeffley interrogatively.
" She took the money up and threw it
across the table at me. If it had hit the
mark, I should have come back to you with
a black eye, but being in a rage she aimed
wide. My God ! I should like to marry that
MR. KATZEN 'S NEWS. 49
girl and tame her!" and Mr. Katzen laughed
softly once again.
"Why, you would be far, far too old for
her !" declared Mrs. Jeffrey, dealing the
cruellest blow she could.
Even while he winced Mr. Katzen an-
" She is old enough in all but years, and
of that small failing she must mend rapidly."
" Yes, she will be twenty before she can
look about her," said Mrs. Jeffrey irritably,
while Jack and his friend maintained an
" That is true," agreed Mr. Katzen ; " three
years at her time of life pass like the shadow
of a dream. When twenty is passed we begin
to feel the grinding of the wheels, which, as
that good Solomon says, drag the nearer we
approach our inevitable end."
" I don't believe Solomon says anything of
the sort," answered Mrs. Jeffrey ; and it was
noticeable after this she devoted many of her
words and a considerable amount of her
attention to Frank Scott.
Often that evening, ere he sought repose
in that chamber well supplied with blankets,
vol. i. 4
5o MITRE COURT.
pillows, and " all other appurtenances to
boot," Mr. Katzen, watching Mrs. Jefrley's
manoeuvres, and hearing what Mrs. Jeffley
said, smiled a secret sort of smile to himself,
which meant that he understood and appre-
ciated the position perfectly.
It is really most curious to consider how
exhaustively foreigners comprehend the weak-
ness of all human beings except themselves !
ESTROYING angels nowadays
assume the form either of a
speculative builder or a clamorous
At this present time of writing, the latter
is working his wickedest will in the heart
of the City. By virtue of an Act of Parlia-
ment passed entirely in his interest, though
ostensibly for the benefit of a long-suffering
public, he is removing old landmarks, sweep-
ing away streets, burrowing through the earth
like a mole. Ere many months elapse, he will,
through neat iron gratings, be vomiting up
steam and smoke into the busiest thorough-
fares ; while next year may find him quietly
slipping another Bill through Committee, em-
52 MITRE COURT.
powering his company to utilize St. Paul's for
If Stephenson could revisit this world, how
pleased he would be to see the full extent of
the destruction already wrought by his inven-
tion ! Never before in the history of man-
kind w T as such a transformation effected !
And yet, with all its railways, there probably
could be found no city harder to get into or
out of, than London, which, once quaint, pic-
turesque, and interesting, is fast becoming a
mere junction, diversified with huge blocks
of ugly buildings that will all most likely have
to come down ere long, to make way for the
transit and housing of rolling-stock.
In the country, the speculative builder is
changing the face of Nature ; in the City, his
twin-brother is wrecking the works of Man.
To them nothing is sacred ; the living - and
the dead they are alike prepared to sacrifice.
The altars of ancient Moloch were at least
reared amongst groves. His high places
were shadowed by swaying branches and
dancing leaves, but our modern Molochs cut
down and spare not every green thing they
see, and foul every fair stream they come
A PLAINT. $3
across ; they erect shoddy villas, and run up
stucco terraces, and plan brick-and-mortar
wildernesses, which they facetiously call
" Gardens." Their course may be tracked
by reason of heaps of rubbish and burning
clay and volumes of smoke, long trails of
cinders and dust and desolation, and starved
flower-beds and yellow gravel and woe !
As " new and powerful " engines pant their
dreary way from Queen Victoria Street to the
Tower, they will pass an interesting corner of
Old London, which, though no doubt doomed
in the near future, has as yet escaped demo-
lition. A hard fi^ht was made over the
Church of St. Mary-at-Hill. No doubt there
was some knight-errant connected with the
parish, who failed to see why even a nine-
teenth-century dragon should have everything
his own way. It seems strange that in an
age which complacently permitted Crosby
Hall to be turned into a restaurant ; allowed
such monstrosities as the galvanized sheds at
Cannon Street and Charing Cross to live ; set
up a ridiculous griffin, brandishing a tea-tray
at Temple Bar ; and holds its peace while
railway bridge after railway bridge is thrown
54 MITRE COURT.
across the river ; which is satisfied to see the
finest site in Europe spoiled by the erection
of tasteless buildings, without form and void
of colour ; which thought no shame to allow
tall stacks of offices to hide the beautiful tower
of St. Mary Aldermary, and never winced
when three old churches vanished in the
twinkling of an eye — anyone could be found
strong enough and bold enough to protect an
edifice so little known and so out-of-the-way
as St. Mary-at-Hill. It is, however, not more
strange than true. No glamour of romance
hangs round the church, though of ancient
date, Richard Hackney having presented to
the living so long ago as 1337. No part of
the original building remains except three
walls ; the very windows were changed from
Gothic by some Vandal towards the end of
the last century; the interior fittings date no
further back than 1672. There are not any
monuments of peculiar interest, a goodly col-
lection of worthy citizens have mouldered
aw r ay to dust within its walls ; but the place,
unlike its near neighbours, All Hallows,
Barking, and St. Olave, Hart Street, has no
name famous in history associated with it ;
A PLAINT. 55
neither can it boast, as may St. Dunstan-in-the-
East, situated within a stone's-throw, of having
been served by eminent preachers. Never-
theless, the whole parish is interesting, both by
reason of its surroundings and the field its quiet
annals open for imagination to rove through.
We do not know who lived in the ancient red
brick houses we meet with in the small courts
and passages just out of Love Lane, but
from the windows, flush with the walls, faces
of the past look forth to greet our own.
Through doorways, adorned with canopy and
architrave, we can see the men and women
of former times on the first Sunday after
Midsummer-day pace slowly to St. Mary's,
to hear the annual sermon preached before
the Fellowship Porters.
" This antient custom" has now fallen into
desuetude, but fancy, cleaving the mists of
years, can give us back that annual procession
of Fellowship Porters, each man carrying a
" large nosegay " from hall to church. And
to those who know St. Mary's — " well wains-
cotted," with " oak pews," " enriched with
cherubim, festoons," an " altar-piece of
Norway oak, with a handsome cornice and
56 MITRE COURT.
pediment," an " interior over the middle aisle
graced with a very light and beautiful cupola"
— it is perfectly easy to picture that solemn
march to the altar, where " every porter
deposits his benevolence, for the use of the
poor and to defray the expenses of the day,
into two basins provided for the purpose.
After having performed this ceremony, the
deputy, merchants, with their wives, children,
and servants," once walked in order " from
their separate pews to perform the same
The scent of those old-world flowers fills
the church. Amid the Bibles and Prayer-
books on the ledge, in front of every man,
woman, and child, lies a nosegay, presented
overnight to the " merchants and respect-
able families in the neighbourhood " by the
members of the Company. The air is sweet
with stocks and lavender and cabbage roses,
and all those fair vanished flowers that once
went to make a perfect bouquet. It was a
fanciful and charming custom which need not
have been forgotten, even in these days of
hard utility. The Lion Sermon is still
preached, and the flower service held in St.
A PLAINT. 57
Katharine Cree. Annually pennies are
tossed on an old tombstone in St. Bartholo-
mew's graveyard. Bancroft's sermon has
not yet been discontinued, though it is said
on the occasion his body is now not taken
out of the coffin — perhaps because there is
no body left to take — in order to be exhibited
to the almsmen of his charity. All these and
many other customs still flourish in their
pristine freshness, but the pleasant spectacle
of hundreds of Fellowship Porters walking
to church and carrying ''great nosegays" is
never beheld. It is dead as the bright buds
made up hundreds of years ago into posies,
which lived their little hour, and drooped and
faded — dead as the children who once played
about St. Mary's Hill — dead as the men and
women who bore their cares and sorrows as
well as their fragrant flowers into God's very
Well, perchance 'tis best so! In a world
where nothing abides for ever, save that
Divine message which to-day floats clear and
sweet over the busy haunts of toiling men, as
it did nigh upon two thousand years ago
across the star-lit plains of Palestine, we need
58 MITRE COURT.
scarcely regret that the sweet custom died
while there was yet some of the old City left
to mourn its departure.
A much less poetical observance, how-
ever, might be with the greatest advantage
revived. In the year 1701, during the reign
of William III., an order was made by the
Court of rulers, auditors, and assistants of
the Company of Watermen and Lightermen
of the river Thames, observing " that several
watermen and their apprentices, while they
are rowing upon that river or at their plying-
places between Gravesend and Windsor,
often use immodest, obscene, and lewd ex-
pressions towards passengers and to each other,
that are offensive to all sober persons, and tend
to the conniption of youths /' it was therefore
ordained, " That watermen or lightermen
convicted of using such expressions forfeit
2s. 6d. for every such offence ; and if any
waterman or lighterman's apprentice shall
offend in the same manner, his master or
mistress shall on his conviction forfeit the
same sum, or in case of their refusal, the
offender shall suffer such correction as the
rulers of the Company shall think fit and
A PLAINT. 59
necessary. The forfeitures when paid to be
applied to the use of the poor, aged, decayed,
and maimed members of the Company, their
widows and children."
If half-a-crown were now exacted for every
offensive word uttered on the silent highway,
and the towing-paths, not merely might the
destitute of Billingsgate be supported, but
the whole of the poor of London ! On a
Sunday morning in summer, for example,
what a sweet crop could be garnered, from
Gravesend to Windsor! The imagination
reels when it considers the amount of bad
language which in the course of one day
alone is thrown on the Thames and abso-
lutely wasted, not a solitary sixpence being
in these days harvested out of it !
Side by side on the spot we have been
considering three lanes run almost parallel
to each other from Lower Thames Street up
the hill leading to Eastcheap and Little
Tower Street — to wit, St. Mary-at-Hill, Love
Lane, and Botolph Lane. They lie close
together, a little paved alley, called Church
Passage, connecting St. Mary-at-Hill with
Love Lane ; Botolph Alley leading from the
6o MITRE COURT.
latter into Botolph Lane, where stands the
Church of St. George, with which is united
the Parish of St. Botolph, Billingsgate.
In a courtyard that might well escape the
observation of passers-by, entered as it is
through an archway of the most unassuming
appearance, there stands even to this day
an old and most beautiful house.
It is placed with its back to Love Lane,
while the front looks out on a square paved
with cobbles, and surrounded by buildings
presumably much more modern than the
mansion once inhabited by no less a person
than Sir Christopher Wren.
To pass out of the City streets, where
staring new warehouses are fast elbowing
the more ancient buildings off the face of
the earth, into that spacious hall paved with
black and white marble, is like stepping back
a couple of centuries in England's history.
There are no such halls nowadays. Where
could such another staircase be found ? See
the massive balustrades, the carved balusters;
notice the easy ascent of the oak steps, which
lead by three short flights to the first-floor.
There is a dignity about the mansion
A PLAINT. 6 1
nineteenth-century architects toil after in
vain. The hall occupies the whole depth
of the house ; it is over thirty feet long and
nearly twenty wide. A double sweep of
stone steps leads up to the front door, and
we can stand on the wide level flagging at
the top, and, looking over the iron rails,
gaze round the quiet courtyard and take a
peep down at the dog-kennel formed by
leaving an opening under the steps, and the
" dog-lick " hollowed out of the solid stone
pavement that runs below. Who owned the
last dog who kept guard there ? and of what
breed were the animals that slaked their
thirst from that cool basin, while St. Paul's
was rising from its ruins, and Wren weeping
tears, which did not disgrace his manhood,
over the cruel and selfish thwarting of that
magnificent ideal which, if carried out, would
have rendered London's Cathedral a truly
grand and fitting monument for its architect ?
Wren has gone where we may fain hope
there is a "Resurgam"* for ideas still-born
* " In the beginning of the new works of St. Paul's,"
writes Sir Christopher Wren in the '"Parentalia,'' "we are
told an incident was taken notice of by some people as a
memorable omen. When the surveyor in person had set
62 MITRE COURT.
on earth, and plans it was impossible for him
to perfect here. The dogs that once bayed
the moon, touching with her silver splendour
the trees in St. Botolph's silent graveyard,
have for two hundred years been unconscious
of the curses or caresses bestowed upon
them by the lackeys and varlets, fit pre-
decessors of our modern grooms and butlers.
The houses of a great overgrown, dusty, bust-
ling city are jostling each other, even as the
men and women are crowding and crushing
the stronger upon the weaker, in the streets
which once were quiet and quaint, rich in
ancient architecture, streaked with those tones
of colour it needs the passage of centuries to
out upon the plan the dimensions of the great dome, and
fixed upon the centre, a common labourer was ordered to
bring a flat stone from the mass of rubbish (such as should
first come to hand) to be laid for a mark and direction to
the masons ; the stone, which was immediately brought and
laid down for that purpose, happened to be a piece of a
gravestone with nothing remaining of the inscription but
this single word in large capitals, 'Resurgam.' How much
the architect himself was struck by the circumstance we see
by the decorations of the pediment over the northern
portico, where an exquisitely sculptured Phcenix rising from
the flames, with the motto ' Resurgam,' has been placed in
accordance with the idea suggested by the incident." —
Knight's " London."
A PLAINT. 63
paint to perfection ; and yet — and yet this
wonderful old mansion for a while stands
apart and quiet, as a gentlewoman of the
olden time, with soft white hair and placid
face and winning manner, may still now and
then, at the rarest of intervals, be encountered
walking solitary to that earthly dwelling from
whence at some not remote time her remains
shall be carried more reverently, let us hope,
than the " building materials " of the old
Botolph Lane dwelling which will be under
the hammer before we can look about us.
Why does not the City buy such houses
and preserve them intact ? Why should we,
even as we look upon this vestige of a
once picturesque and interesting London, be
compelled to forecast that not remote time
when its walls will groan under the shame of
staring bills announcing its " materials " are
on a certain day to pass under the hammer ?
Then, as in a terrible nightmare, we see it
" lotted off" — its chimney-pieces, its wains-
cots, its panels, the noble doorway, the leaden
roof, from which, it may be, Sir Christopher
himself beheld London's "tall bully" rising
to the skies, and turned to view the lantern
64 MITRE COURT.
church spire, which tradition says was de-
signed by his daughter.
It is a pretty fancy/ so do not let us in-
quire too closely into its truth. There, at
all events, are the leads whence it is easy
nowadays to see the Crystal Palace, or, easier
still, to break one's neck, if such a course
seem more agreeable.
Off those leads a stone might be pitched
into the tower either of St. George or St.
Mary. From Love Lane an ancient and
fish-like smell arises like a mist ; it is so
dense, it almost overpowers the various
odours of fruit that abound in the neighbour-
hood. Pineapples, oranges, lemons, bananas,
forbidden fruit — they are all there struggling
for mastery with the fish ; but the fish elbows
them out of court. Now and then a whiff
of lemon or a gust of pineapple cleaves right
across the courtyard ; but the dominant scent
is of herrings, fresh and stale ; of plaice that
has been sold and eaten, but the scent of
which still lingers around ; of mackerel and
whiting, and all other fish that swim within
easy range of London. They are here
merged into one oreat whole — into one vast,
A PLAINT. 65
solid, indescribable smell the inhabitants say
they never notice — nay, that they assert does
" How should it ?" they ask. " The streets
are cleaned twice a day, and the gutters
flushed with carbolic acid." (Satan casting
If they like the atmosphere, and triumph-
antly quote the Registrar-General's returns,
why should anyone else grumble ? No !
though there are courts and alleys the
stranger ought to " back " along, the first
whiff to unaccustomed nostrils proving well-
nigh unendurable if met face to face.
Queer facts as well as smells meet one in
these lanes. Take this for example. Did
you, reader, ever hear of innocent brazils
heating like a haystack ? They do, though ;
they have sprung the flooring of the old
house, as you can see if you will descend
from the roof and enter a small room on
the ground-floor, now used for hanging
up boys' caps, once in the occupation of
G. Brisco, the "colourless and bloodless"
man, who spent many a dreary and weary
and lonely year in the old house which
vol. 1. 5
66 MITRE COURT.
must once have been so fair and goodly a
By the steam given off from those and other
nuts, the boards have been prized from their
nails, and lifted from an inch to half an inch.
Strange, is it not ? and yet, perhaps, no
stranger than that the panels painted by
one Robinson (whoever he might be), in the
year of grace 1670, as all who choose to go
and see can read, are strained and cracked
by a similar action on the part of oranges.
Methinks were I, the writer of this book, and
in my modest holding of a human being one
of the humblest of created mortals, in any
capacity free of the City of London — say
liveryman, common councillor, deputy-sheriff,
sheriff, alderman, Lord Mayor — I would make
the City — which after all cannot be accounted
so very big, though undoubtedly it is very
great — my study : I would know every court,
lane, alley, house, exhaustively ; and were
there still left an old mansion, hallowed by
fact or tradition, I should try to save it ; and
if I could not, I would enter my protest-
uselessly, it might be, yet with no uncertain
sound — against the Philistine utilitarianism
A PLAINT. 67
of an age which, desecrating the word " pro-
gress," sweeps away, for the sake of accursed
Mammon, every ancient landmark, and will
lay us open an hundred years hence to the
gibes of a posterity who — Heaven grant! — ■
may have better taste than to turn such a
residence, as has been tried in this chapter
to portray, into a school for children of the
It seems incredible, but it is simply the
Billingsgate youth at this present moment
is wiping its feet at the back entrance of Sir
Christopher Wren's old house, making its
riotous way up his servants' staircase — in his
withdrawing-room, the walls of which are
adorned with imbecile pictures, putting up
its hands ere answering some most foolish
question. Lord, grant me patience while I
O City ! once interesting beyond ail
power of speech — now a mere aggregation
of offices and warehouses, swollen with
wealth, insolent with prosperity — hearken to
my plaint !
With an exceeding love have I, an alien,
68 MITRE COURT.
loved you. In your better time I knew you,
and there was scarce a stone in your pave-
ment, or house in your streets, but had a
fascination for one who deliberately elected
to strive and interweave the touching ro-
mance of daily life and eternal struggle with
the dry details of commerce. Your sooty
trees were more to me than forest or upland ;
the wave of humanity, rushing eternally over
your stony-hearted pavements, seemed a
grander, mightier sight than Atlantic billows
racing like war-horses upon an iron-bound
coast. Scarce a man or woman in your
midst but whose face held to my fancy a
story and a pathos no one, perhaps, would
have felt more astounded to see put into
print than its owner ; with toil and travail I
learned the ins and outs of your commerce ;
of the best God vouchsafed to me, I gave
you all ; and for myself the result has been
well-nigh nil. I piped to you and ye did not
dance, I mourned and ye did not weep ; yet
this I could have borne, for in authorship, as
in all art, there is a reward the world wots
What I cannot bear, however, is your
A PLAINT. 69
changed and desecrated face. As the years
count, I have not been for so long a time
one of your strange and unwelcome children,
yet you are no more the London of my
dream and of my memory than some shame-
less woman, flaunting her guilty face in the
gaslight, is to the girl who stood, with the
apple-blossoms falling on her young head,
while listening to the whispering of a lover
who meant her no wrong.
To look at you now is worse than looking
on a grave, because we believe that some-
where — somewhere — the one we loved is
living still in all great and noble qualities
unchanged ; but you — what have you given
in lieu of your picturesque and gracious past,
in which Pepys penned his diary, and his
great contemporary, whose " soul was like a
star and dwelt apart," who "had a voice,
whose sound was like the sea," wrote those
stately sentences which more resemble the
full swell of some noble organ than ordinary
I say nothing of kings, queens, martyrs,
patriots, who have passed through your
streets. It is enough to think of the men
70 MITRE COURT.
who lived in them, and for whose memory
you have not even the decent respect a son
might entertain for some common-place
Out upon you ! Anathema maranatha !
Was it not enough that you let a railway
bridge be flung across Ludgate Hill ; that
you are sitting calmly with folded hands
while the Thames is being spanned by iron
girders ; that you are permitting the finest
thoroughfare in the world to be disfigured by
buildings destitute of beauty ; that under the
name railway termini you allow galvanized
sheds to remain, which are a horror to
behold ; that you let chance after chance slip
away of acquiring river frontages on the
Surrey side, where all the Government
offices could be splendidly placed, and con-
stitute such an architectural effect as might
gladden the soul of Sir Christopher himself;
but you must sweep away, in your greed for
gain and ground-rents, every landmark of
the better time in your history, when another
god than Mammon was worshipped ? What
have I not seen swept away as of no
account ? Even in my own poor work
A PLAINT. 71
scarce one stone is left upon another to tell
where the people who glided out of shadow-
land to walk and talk with me — who became
parts of my being, who were bone of my
bone, and flesh of my flesh, more real to me
than ninety-nine out of a hundred of the
thousands of human beings I have actually
known — lived, and played out their little
Almost before his story was told, the
house in which Hugh Elyot died fell under
the hammer. On its site there is now a
rookery of small weekly tenements. If
George Geith strayed to-morrow into " Fen
Court" he would not recognise the changed
face of the once retired nook where he and
Beryl were so happy. Over the graveyard
Yorke Forde must have looked upon so
often, the trains have for many a year run in
and out of Cannon Street Station, whilst
even the railing over which she leaned while
telling her shame to Luke Ross is altered.
Ere " The Senior Partner" had reached its
final number, that North Street where Alfred
Mostyn fried his rashers, and wound up his
clock, was improved off the face of the earth.
72 MITRE COURT.
As I write, it may be, the fiat has gone forth
dooming the old house off Botolph Lane to
destruction ; in to-day's paper tenders for the
building materials are invited for a far more
ancient and interesting relic of Old London.
Most of the famous taverns have gone — what,
indeed, has not ? Why should you care, O
overgrown and unwieldy City, so long as
stocks and shares rise and fall — so long as
bargains are to be made, and differences
You have swept the old away — will the
new be better ? Romance must give way
to Reality — Poetry to the Money Article in
the daily papers. In the future who will be
found possessed of sufficient courage to write
a novel about your present ? The man does
not exist, neither will he ever exist, who
could evolve sentiment out of rows of ware-
houses and blocks of offices — your termini,
your buildings, your cold, cheerless rooms,
fitted with all the latest appliances of dis-
comfort, where men sin and toil for money
to be spent in homes they only sleep at.
When Macaulay's New Zealander at last
stands on that broken arch of London
A PLAINT. 73
Bridge and looks over your ruined city, let
him breathe no sigh of regret, for with your
own hand you will have long before destroyed
everything worth regretting.
This is my plaint now ended. We may
therefore go back to the marble-paved hall,
to the panelled dining-room, the beautiful
ceilings, and lovely chimney-pieces in Sir
Christopher Wren's old home.
IN THE OLD HOUSE.
VERYWHERE persons are to be
met with leading lives which seem
strange to their fellows.
Either they have dropped behind the
world, or voluntarily stepped out from it.
The causes that impel them to avoid con-
tact with other human beings may be widely
different, but the result is the same — an in-
creasing dislike which finally becomes actual
hatred to society of any sort.
Poverty, disappointment, over-sensitive-
ness, remorse, crime, sorrow — anyone of these
may drive a man to seek isolation from his
In some cases circumstances extend his
reputation far beyond the limits of local
IN THE OLD HOUSE. 75
gossip, as witness the celebrity which the
most unhappy hermit of Stevenage finally
attained ; but, as a rule, these " eccentric
characters " are seldom heard of till they
have ceased being odd for ever, when a
newspaper paragraph tells us they were once
living in our midst. There is no better
place than London for indulging a fancy for
solitude. In all parts of it there have ever
been, and no doubt are now, people dwelling
quite alone without friends, without employ-
ment, often without even visible means of
Death, or choice, or necessity has cut
them loose from the ties of relationship ; if
their lot was cast in some vast wilderness
they could not be so desolate as in their
voluntary exile from humanity.
To ordinary minds there is something
appalling in the fact of such existences ; we
lack the key which would perhaps unlock the
mystery, and we also lack comprehension of
how any misfortune, great though it may have
been, should obtain such a mastery over the
mind as to induce a living soul to practically
cut itself off from the great congregation of
76 MITRE COURT.
breathing, striving, struggling sympathetic
men and women.
Think of the so-called " old witch of
Stamford Street," and of her houses there
and in Snow Hill, which she deliberately
suffered to go to wreck and ruin merely to
spite her heir. What a life that was to lead !
With means sufficient to render existence
happy, useful, blessed, she burrowed in the
wretched basement of one of her dilapidated
dwellings, and dressed so that when she
took her walks abroad the boys hooted her.
Think of the gentleman who in a past age
shut himself up and dwelt alone near Fore
Street, never stirring outside the door, or
admitting anyone inside it, for fifty years.
Consider that other gentleman of good
fortune who for so long vegetated in a large
suburban residence, keeping only one ser-
vant, a man whom he never permitted to
enter his bedroom. Each day he bought a
pound of candles, which he burnt ; a pound
of coffee, which he drank ; and a pound of
butter, wherewith he anointed himself. We
do not call such people mad, yet surely
they can scarcely be accounted sane.
IN THE OLD HOUSE. 77
To everyone with whom he came in con-
tact Mr. G. Brisco, of Botolph Lane, was a
puzzle. How or why he led the life he did
seemed to them as inexplicable as the con-
duct of the person who stopped for the third
of a century at " The Horns," Kennington,
settling his bill every day, must have done to
the then landlord of that inn. In every
business transaction Mr. Brisco proved him-
self able and astute. His abilities were
beyond the average. His speech and
manners were those of a person superior to
most of the individuals with whom he came
in contact. How then did it, could it
happen, people asked themselves, that he
remained so poor, and held so resolutely
aloof from help and ordinary intercourse ?
He could not be in hiding, for he walked
the City streets at high noon ; it seemed
incredible that he should be cruelly stinting
himself in order to pay off any old debt.
Nevertheless it seemed more incredible still
that so clever a man could not make even a
moderate income. For a time speculation
exhausted itself about him ; and then, seeing
the same system of self-denial going on day
78 . MITRE COURT.
after day and year after year, curiosity almost
died out, only reviving when any incident
occurred to brine: Mr. Brisco and his affairs
again on the carpet.
There was nothing genial about him. He
possessed a caustic tongue, and there were
few who cared to test the quality of its edge
" Do you come from Yorkshire ?" inquired
a man one day, whose name was Jopp.
" Did I ever ask you whether you came
from Whitechapel ?" was the retort.
"No — certainly not," said Mr. Jopp,
wincing a little, for his maternal grandfather
had been a butcher in that district.
" Then, if I wish to know nothing about
your birthplace, why should you trouble
yourself about mine ?"
No matter what questions were put, Mr.
Brisco answered them somewhat after this
fashion. Where he had sprung from ; how
he chanced to be so poor ; for what reason
he lived so singular and isolated a life — were
mysteries to those around him. Mr. Katzen's
account of his mode of existence, though
evolved from that gentleman's inner con-
IN THE OLD HOUSE. 79
sciousness, was in the main correct : his
clothes were shabby, his person emaciated,
his food of the poorest ; in that great house
he dwelt solitarily, for he made no companion
of the girl who had drifted quite by accident
across his path.
But for her he would most probably have
been starved to death long previously; he
certainly could not have struggled through
an illness, brought on by cold and privation,
except for the way in which she, at the time
quite a child, nursed and tended him.
The interest of all the neighbours had then
been aroused, and their sympathies quickened
by the girl's devotion, by the man's mortal
Help and kindness were offered and
accepted freely ; but whenever Mr. Brisco
recovered from his delirium, and understood
what was going on, he crushed their friendly
feelings as ruthlessly as we have seen all
beauty pressed out of a fair flower between
the yellow leaves of some musty book.
After that he was left alone — the right
hand of fellowship was not again extended.
Naturally people do not like their good
So MITRE COURT.
offices repulsed. Few greeted him even
as he passed up and down the lane, and
those who did spoke coldly. He had sown,
and he was reaping ; unlike some, the harvest
seemed to his mind. He desired nothing
from his fellows save to be left in peace — and
at last his fellows were more than willing to
gratify his desire.
Between the old mansion and its occupant
there existed a subtle sort of fitness not
always to be found.
The latter-day type, for instance, of com-
monplace City man — loud-talking, familiar,
easy in language as in morals ; hairy as
Esau, giving promise of growing stouter
than Ehud, who would have rejoiced to paint
over the panels in the dining-room and had
them picked out in red or blue by " some
chap up to his business ;" kept sherry and
champagne in a convenient cupboard ; sat
preferably on the table with one foot stretched
down to the floor while he roared over the
jokes of his "pals,'"' "devilish good fellows"
— might, though doubtless a useful and ex-
cellent person in his way, have appeared out
of place in a dwelling where grave merchants
IN THE OLD HOUSE. Si
once resided and dispensed princely hospi-
But in the sere and yellow leaf period of
its life there seemed a certain fitness in see-
ing a wasted figure wandering like a ghost
through the building: — flitting from room to
room in the twilight when business was over
and the offices closed, and the men who
occupied them during the day had departed,
and a silence resembling death brooded over
the house. It was then — clad in an old grey
dressing-gown, and wearing a pair of list slip-
pers that made no sound — he roamed through
the solemn stillness, making no echo. In the
moonlight, and when the stars were shining,
he would pace the leads for hours, seeing
in heaven the vision of only one angel — on
earth but one great sorrow, his own. Coming
suddenly in these vigils upon this spectre,
anyone might have been excused who had
taken him for one from the dead — his colour-
less face, his ragged beard, his straggling
grey hair, often looked weird and awful in
the unreal light by which preferably he took
his rambles through the dim, deserted house,
up and down the leads, both when the gas
vol. i. 6
lamps showed objects in a lurid transparency,
and when the first streaks of dawn began to
reveal the masts of the ships lying at anchor
hard by, and the great City tied and bound
There was no one, however, who did meet
him unexpectedly at such times ; no — though
often a young girl would run swiftly up the
narrow staircase winding to the roof, and
saying, "It is too late" (or "too early," as
the case might be) " for you to stop here any
longer," take his cold hand in hers and lead
him away, unresisting, to bed.
This was the girl, grown tall and shapely,
who had nursed him through that illness
with a sage tenderness which won for her
the suffrages of two parishes. As far as
looks went she deserved all the praise Mr.
Katzen thought fit to bestow on her.
She was pretty. She had dark hair, and
dark, deep, beautiful eyes, and in her cheeks
the rich mellow tint of a ripe peach showed
through the clear brown of her complexion.
Her waist was small and round, her figure
upright, and — yet again Mr. Katzen was
right — she did not look as though she were
IN THE OLD HOUSE.
starved ; rather she was the embodiment of
young, vigorous, perfect health. Spite of
all her night watches, her broken rest, her
risings before the lark, or that bird's London
equivalent, the nearest cock — all the terrible
hardships and miseries of her early childhood
— no stronger or more useful piece of vanity
in her teens than Miss Abigail Weir could
have been found in the four parishes close at
hand, from corner to corner of which, "if it
were not for the houses," said the maiden,
" we might play at ball."
Poor, fatherless, friendless Abigail Weir —
poor, cold, hungry, forlorn, desolate little
waif — she had crossed Mr. Brisco's life after
the strangest fashion. When first he came
to the old house in Botolph Lane he resided
there in utter solitude. Once the door closed
behind the last clerk who left the offices, no
human being remained to keep Mr. Brisco
company. What he did in the long evenings
could only be conjectured, and after a few
months there were few who concerned them-
selves about the matter. Not a glimmer of
light ever shone down into Love Lane from
any window of the old house. Perhaps, as
84 MITRE COURT
Mr. Katzen suggested, he went to bed tired
out, for he worked hard all day ; more likely
already those restless wanderings, which
as time passed on grew so frequent, had
recurred ; there was space and to spare in the
ancient building for abundant exercise. In
the early morning a woman always appeared
to "do up" the offices. Summer and winter,
rain, hail, frost, or snow, she arrived from
Water Lane, where she resided in the top
story of a house, the basement and ground-
floor of which were devoted to coals, coke,
Sarson's vinegar in pint bottles, and green-
grocery, and at once proceeded, without
pausing even to remove her pinched and
shabby black bonnet, to polish the grates,
wash over the marble hearths, lay fires, and
11 wipe down" the stairs. Once a week there
was a great cleaning, which occupied the
whole of Saturday afternoon. There was
much to do, but Mrs. Childs did it unassisted
by even a pint of beer. Mr. Brisco was not
a man to pay more to anyone than he bar-
Just, he might be. " For my part," Mrs.
Childs stated, "I am not going to say against
IN THE OLD HOUSE. 85
that — what he tells you he'll do, he does.
When he makes a bargain he sticks to it, but
then it is all a bargain ! He'd stand out for
a week over a halfpenny ; and as for perqui-
sites, I haven't seen the colour of one in this
old ramshackle house. I told him all the
other gentlemen I'd served — and they were
gentlemen, some of them making no more
about putting their hand in their pockets
and drawing out half a sovereign, or maybe
a sovereign, at Christmas-time, than if it had
been a shilling — let me have the papers and
any bottles or waste there might be ; but he
snapped my nose off. ' You'll get neither
paper nor waste here, Mrs. Childs,' he
answered quick-like, just as though I'd
wanted to steal something ; ' I know enough
about that sort of thine- !' "
"'And precious little all your knowing
has done for you,' I thought to myself. No
one can attend to his proper business, and
look after cheese -parings too. If he had
not made himself so fast, taking the bread
out of poor people's mouths, in a manner of
speaking, he might have had a better coat
to his back this day ; and that's my opinion,
and I don't care if he hears me saying
For the space of what good Mrs. Childs
called two weary years she had "done" for
Mr. Brisco by contract — she had scrubbed,
blackleaded, hearthstoned, window-cleaned,
brick-dusted, and emery-powdered for that
gentleman all at per week, oilman's
goods included. She did not indeed bear the
heat and burden of her labour entirely alone,
On Saturdays, and sometimes on other days
when extra work was in progress, she brought
with her a niece called Sophia, to which name
Mrs. Childs gave an additional charm by
pronouncing it " Sophiar." Sophia had a
large head, no neck worth mentioning, no
discernible waist whatever, thick ankles, big
flat feet, and awkward hands with stout red
arms to match. She always kept her mouth
open, and usually came furnished with a good
cold. She had round colourless eyes, very
lieht hair, fat cheeks, a face well dotted over
with freckles, and she was not quite wise.
Had the senilis and knowledge, however,
of all the generations of this world from its
creation been centred in Sophia's person,
IN THE OLD HOUSE. 87
Mrs. Childs could not have spoken more
highly of her cleverness, or laid more stress
on it. '
" She is able to clean a room as well as I
can," the aunt was wont to say triumphantly.
"You wouldn't believe the work she gets
through. You should just see my boards ;
they're as white as snow," which was not,
perhaps, so much a matter to be wondered
at, since sometimes, when the fit took her,
Sophia would scrub out Mrs. Child's front
room half-a-dozen times in a day.
The aunt was constantly getting the niece
" little places," giving her the best of cha-
racters, and the highest of recommendations ;
but as Sophia, in addition to several other
failings, had many personal habits prejudiced
individuals, unaccustomed to " make allow-
ances," were disagreeable enough to find
fault with, Sophia as a rule never kept her
situations beyond four- and- twenty hours;
then Sophia, her cold, and her wardrobe
(wrapped neatly up in a square piece of old
black cashmere), returned to Mrs. Childs'
roof-tree, where she gave that worthy woman
an agreeable insight into the domestic affairs
of the family foolish enough to decline her
A cruel lapse of memory on the part of
Nature had sent Sophia into the world
without a palate ; but Mrs. Childs under-
stood her speech well enough to gather there
was scarcely a house in the district destitute
of what she termed a " skellinoton."
For two years, then, she had been spending
her health and strength in the ungrateful
task of trying so to please Mr. Brisco as to
wrinQf from him a higher weeklv wage —
when, " one Wednesday evening as ever
was," after office hours she had to q:o to the
old house to " clear up the mess " left by a
departing tenant, who had occupied two
offices on the first-floor and the whole of the
The place was in a "fine litter," in such a
litter indeed that both Mrs. Childs and
Sophia, when they surveyed the scene of
future action, stood for a moment appalled.
As regarded the cellar, they had nothing
to do. By order of the departing tenant, his
man swept the straw and rubbish up into a
heap, for the next comer to have cleared
IN THE OLD HOUSE. 89
away at his leisure ; but the offices, so Mrs.
Childs affirmed, " made her flesh creep."
The Qrentleman who rented them had
never, for a matter of twelve months, let
anyone into them except when he was present,
and " I leave you to guess," said Mrs. Childs,
"only you nor nobody could guess, the state
those two rooms were in !"
It was a bitter night in January. Snow
lay thick in the courtyard. Not a star could
" I had to kindle a spark of fire to hot a
drop of water, so as to keep my hands from
beinQ- numbed with the cold — lono- as I have
been ' going out,' ' Mrs. Childs' favourite
technical ellipsis, " I never remember such a
cruel job as that. I don't know how we got
through with it ; but we did somehow, all but
the windows, which I told Mr. Brisco I couldn't
and I wouldn't undertake in the dark. I had
only the dusting to finish and the putting to
rights to see to, so I thought I'd just send
Sophiar home, and let her be getting a
mouthful of supper ready — I'm sure we both
wanted it bad enough — and I stopped on
and was settling up the rooms, for the fresh
no MITRE COURT.
tenant wanted to come in next morning, when
who should appear sudden but Mr. Brisco.
He had on an old coat, and he held a dark
lantern in his hand, and his face was the
colour of chalk ; and when I saw T him a sort
of tremblinp- came over me — for I thought of
Guy Faux, and that we were all alone in that
great house, parted off from the world as one
might say. You see, the offices where I was
at work didn't look out on Love Lane, but
faced the square ; and I knew he might
murder me a dozen times and nobody could
" Mrs. Childs," said Mr. Brisco, who
certainly had not the smallest intention of
killing and slaying that estimable woman,
" do you know anything about children ?"
Certainly the question seemed strange, but
Mrs. Childs w r as in her own opinion equal to
answering that or any other which might be
propounded. Nevertheless, as true genius
is always modest, her reply partook of that
" Well, sir, it's not for me to say — I never
was one to talk about my own doings ; but
when you come to a matter of six poor little
IN THE OLD HOUSE. gi
clears left motherless, Sophiar being the eldest
but two of the lot, and me a struggling widow,
and their father out of his head with grief,
and losing his rest, and not in work besides,
I think "
"Yes, Mrs. Childs, and so do I. Kindly
oblige me by stepping down into the cellar
lor a minute."
" Into the cellar, sir !" returned Mrs. Childs,
now quite satisfied Mr. Brisco had gone sud-
denly mad. " If you'll excuse me, sir, I'd
" Oh, but you must," he persisted ; "there's
a little girl there, and I don't know what to
make of her."
"A little girl!" repeated Mrs. Childs
" There can't be any little girl in the cellar."
" There is, though," he persisted. " I
thought I would see all was safe below, but
I had hardly got to the bottom of the steps
when I felt that I was not alone — that some-
body or something besides myself was in the
place. I threw the light round and about,
but I could see nothing. Then I listened
and heard a faint gasping noise. Guided by
the sound, I made my way to a heap of straw
92 MITRE COURT.
and dirt the men had piled against the old
wine-bin — still I could see nothing ; but when
I tossed the straw over, expecting to find a
cat or dog, I saw a child. Come down — I
can't tell whether she is dying or not."
Still properly and prudently incredulous,
but feeling nevertheless very certainly that
" you could have knocked me down with a
feather,'' Mrs. Childs reluctantly followed
Mr. Brisco downstairs (" I wouldn't have
gone first had it been ever so," she subse-
quently stated), and into the huge basement
of the old house.
The cold was piercing, the air of the cellar
struck chill and damp like a grave ; the weird
light of Mr. Brisco's lantern cast strange re-
(lections on the paved floor, on the roof
tapestried with years of dust and generations
of cobwebs. Packed up against one of the
wine-bins was a mound of straw and rubbish,
and half buried amongst this lay a little figure
stretched out full-length, apparently asleep,
and moaning as if suffering cruelly.
" Is she dying ?" asked Mr. Brisco, holding
his lantern so that the rays fell full on the
IN THE OLD HOUSE. 93
" Dying ! not a bit of it — she's shamming,
that's what she's at. Here, what are you
doing ? Get up out of that !" and suiting her
action to her words, Mrs. Childs with a vigor-
ous jerk dragged the creature from its lair on
to the hard cold floor. " I'll give you some-
thing !" she added. " I'll teach you to sneak
into houses. Now don't g-o on making: be-
lieve. Stand up on your feet, and tell us
where you come from."
Staggering; as if she were drunk, the girl
opened great dark eyes of terror, and crying,
" Don't beat me, don't beat me — I wasn't
doing anything !" fell, a poor bundle of tatters,
at Mr. Brisco's feet.
" What can we do ?" asked that gentleman
" If you'll stop here, sir, I'll run for the
police," answered Mrs. Childs, greatly excited.
" Likelv as not there's a gang- of them about,
and they've smuggled her in to open the
door in the dead of night ;" and Mrs. Childs
was about to speed on her errand, when
Mr. Brisco stopped her.
" Wait a minute," he said. " Don't go just
94 MITRE COURT.
" We'll all be murdered in our beds !" ex-
claimed Mrs. Childs.
" Be calm. You won't, at any rate," he
answered. " This girl is starved," he went
on, raising her. " Poor little wretch ! I
wonder where she comes from."
" She's no good, wherever she comes
from," was the reply evolved in a wonderful
spirit of prophecy from Mrs. Childs' internal
consciousness. " You'd best not touch her,
sir — like enough, if so be she's not shamming,
she's sickening for fever or smallpox. It
won't take me a minute to fetch a police-
man. He'll soon make my lady speak.
They're up to all these sorts of dodgings and
Mr. Brisco did not take the slightest notice
of the charwoman's suQ-<Tested advice. For
answer, he only carried the waif back to her
bed of broken straw, piled some of it over
her emaciated body, and then saying, "If you
have finished upstairs, I need not detain you
any longer," made way for her to precede him,
which, after a feint of shrinking back, and
" You go first, sir," Mrs. Childs did with an
alacrity that savoured of fear.
MRS. CHILDS INTERROGATED.
ROBABLY in the whole of London
no cleaner house could have been
found than Mrs. Jeffley's.
It was scoured, and hearth-stoned, and
polished, and chamois-leathered, till its
darkest places absolutely shone.
" There is no hole-and-corner work in my
place," Mrs. Jeffley declared with natural
pride, and this was quite true. Her linen,
got up in the country, smelt sweet and whole-
some ; everyday her floors were washed over;
every week her windows were cleaned ; every
morning her step was whitened ; every Wed-
nesday and Saturday her kitchen was turned
inside out. She did not stint soap, or powder,
or soda, or Bath-brick, or emery powder, or
96 MITRE COURT.
anything the oilman in Crutched Friars with
whom she dealt could provide.
Her house was clean as a new pin ; there
was literally no dirt about it, save that con-
veyed away into Water Lane hard by, each
night, by one person, and that person Mrs.
As the Israelites sent the devoted goat
laden with all their sins out into that great
and terrible wilderness, so Mrs. Childs on her
own person seemed, when she bade good-
night, to bear off the accumulated grime of
each long day. Years of charing had come
and gone since she left Mr. Brisco and took
service under Mrs. Jeffley ; indeed, her de-
parture from the one situation and her entrance
into the other was more rapid than the transit
of the twelve tribes from the plains of Moab
across the Jordan. A land of promise
Fowkes' Buildings truly proved to one who
had long been wandering through the arid
wilderness of a house "let out in offices," and
where, to quote Mrs. Childs' forcible simile,
there was not enough "food lying over to
feed a flea." Leaving Mr. Brisco was her
own act and deed, yet she never forgave him
MR S. CHILD S INTERROGATED. 97
for totally severing the connection. " With
a ' look in' from me now and again," she was
wont to declare, " Sophiar could have got
through all there was to do and more,
and the few halfpence would have come
in handy, rubbing along as I am forced to
Being compelled to "rub along" without
the assistance of Mr. Brisco's halfpence, Mrs.
Childs concentrated her remarkable powers
of mind on pleasing Mrs. Jeffley, which she
did with such success that, though cooks and
housemaids, "generals" and "plains," came
and went, she remained.
It might have been thought that in so
thriving and well-managed an establishment
the work could have been got through with-
out the aid of an outsider. This was not so,
however, and Mrs. Childs knew the reason
why. Mrs. Jeffley could not keep her servants.
Young and old — plain and pretty, fair and
dark, short and tall — English, Irish, Scotch,
and foreign — Churchwomen, " Romans " (as
Mrs. Childs termed the creed presided over
by his Holiness the Pope), Dissenters of all
colours and every imaginable shade — an ad-
vol. 1. ■;..• 7
93 MITRE COURT.
vanced lacly who believed in nothing — the
result was the same.
Sometimes one of these various persons
" put in " three months, but, as a rule, four
weeks proved more than sufficient. The
number of servants Mrs. Childs had " spoke
to friendly " when they arrived was only
equalled by the number who had " taken
themselves off" with only a nasty toss of their
heads ; the boxes dragged by them upstairs
in faith, were pretty evenly balanced by those
lugged down into the hall with much burning
of spirit and secret malediction.
Tireless herself, Mrs. Jeffley thought those
in receipt of wages should be tireless too.
Ever ready to please any liberal lodger, Mrs.
Jeffley could not conceive what Kate and
Ann and Polly found to grumble about, when
asked to do the simplest thing not in the
She, however, was working for herself;
they were working for her. Naturally, Kate,
Ann, and Polly took a different view of the
matter. Perhaps it was wrong for them to
do so, but the naturalness cannot be denied.
What almost passes belief, however, is, that
MRS. CHILDS INTERROGATED. c 9
Mrs. Jefiiey went on hoping one day she
would meet with a paragon. "Just like you,
Mrs. Childs," she often said, "but who has no
encumbrance, and can live in the house. ' ;
" That's the very thing you want, ma'am,"
agreed Mrs. Childs ; " and I only wish I could
tell you where to lay your hand on a person
who would see to you and think for you and
consider you as you ought to be considered
and thought for and seen to."
Mrs. Childs never was able to tell Mrs.
Jeffley where to find the domestic phcenix she
desired to capture, neither did she offer her-
self as a substitute for the more splendid and
complete ideal that lady had formed.
Mrs. Childs was, indeed, to put the affair
in homely phrase, far too old a bird to be
caught by chaff, or anything else. Pounds of
lime would have failed to snare her. Better
to her seemed the old bed in Water Lane, in
which the feathers were well nigh dust, than
all the new-fangled spring and horsehair
mattresses in Mrs. Jeffrey's house ; better the
Pembroke table drawn triangular-wise almost
to the hobs, the tea brewed till black, the
muffins toasted by Sophia's fingers — the
"relish" of whatever kind it might be — than
all the ' ; waste and plenty" of the kitchen in
" I must keep a home for the sake of the
children," she was wont to declare, and though
the children — who, by the way, were not hers
— never came near their devoted aunt, and,
with the exception of that charming fixture
" Sophiar," made themselves conspicuous by
their absence, the excuse served its purpose
of standing between Mrs. Childs and a too
This was the reason she appeared each
morning in Fowkes' Buildings with the milk,
clad in severe black worn in memory of no
one in particular ; and provided with two
aprons — a holland of surpassing and surpris-
ing whiteness, and a "coarse," which, though
rough in the grain, and unbeautiful as regards
texture, was also clean and capable of endur-
ing many things.
When she left at night, both aprons, as
well as Mrs. Childs herself, were black as if
they had all been up a few of the Fowkes'
Buildings chimneys. Layer after layer of
dirt had been steadily painted on ; the filth
MRS. CHILD S INTERROGATED.
of the whole house seemed to be accumulated
on Mrs. Childs' own person — floors, fires,
knives, boots, coal-cellar, grates, kettles,
carpets, were laid under contribution, and
the result was a finished whole of griminess
not to be described in words.
As for meals — though, when the subject
was much and gracefully pressed, Mrs. Childs
felt she could not always be refusing to " sit
down " — the devoted woman preferred to
take them standing.
She had a ''mouthful" of bread-and-cheese
while washing-up the breakfast things, and
she dearly liked a glass of beer standing
beside her in the sink — not that Mrs. Childs
was a glutton, or given in the smallest degree
to intemperance ; but these modes of victual-
ling enabled her at once to maintain the
physical strength she needed, and to keep
her industry well in evidence.
"The best of them," said Mrs. Childs
oracularly, the term referring to employers,
" are apt, if they see you resting for a minute,
to think you are lazying."
As a general principle, it may be laid down
that servants do not like a master or mistress
whom they can fool. Under the "iron-heel"
employes produce their best work, develop the
sweetest virtues. After all, reduced to plain
words, what was the rule of that golden time
when men and women stopped twenty, thirty,
forty years in one employ, but one of the
strictest despotism ? It was then man and
master, slave and owner ; now the tables
are reversed. Mrs. Jeffley, who would have
been a most kind and considerate slave-
owner, did not find without eternal harrying
she could get her labour performed properly,
even for large wages ; and Mrs. Childs, who
was able to get through an enormous amount
of work for twelve shillings a week and her
food, in her heart despised Mrs. Jeffley, arid
considered how much better she could have
managed a house, had heaven only given her
some money, and a connection, and a soft,
easy, good-natured " fool of a husband" like
But Mrs. Childs did her work. Early and
late, and during the whole day, she was at
everybody's beck and call. She knew on
which side her bread was buttered. For
the first time during her widowed life she
MRS. CHILD S INTERROGATED. 103
had fallen into clover, and she did not mean
to be turned out of it if she could avert such
Nevertheless, in the strongest citadels
there is oftentimes a weak point of which
the citadels themselves are not aware. Mrs.
JefHey's weak point was vanity, and Mrs.
Childs knew that. Mrs. Childs' weak point
was Sophia, and Mrs. Jeffley knew that.
Some day, it might be, Mrs. Childs' valour
would overcome her discretion ; who could
tell ? If ever that day arrived, for a cer-
tainty she would charge the enemy's camp,
and while inflicting 'great disaster come to
grief. Meantime, she was poor, patient,
hard-working, willing Mrs. Childs, waiting
quietly on that Whit-Monday night in Mrs.
JefHey's kitchen, till it should please her mis-
tress to appear, and signify that she wanted
She had waited a long time — one apron
coiled ud around her waist as though it had
been the tail of a serpent ; the other packed
into a roll like a currant dumpling. On the
kitchen table lay tied in a cloth the things
she had been told she could take home.
104 MITRE COURT.
During the course of twelve hours, liberal,
impulsive, silly Mrs. Jeffley was wont to be-
stow many such benefactions. One by one
Mrs. Childs laid them on a shelf which came
to be devoted exclusively to her "perqs.,"
till — before the witching-time, which beheld
her vanish, arrived — a goodly assortment of
eatables w r as collected.
Mrs. Childs had taken possession of a
chair. In spite of the unusual circumstance
of having given herself a " rub over," she
looked extremely dirty, and she was almost
asleep ; but when Mrs. Jeffley, in a brown
silk dress, came rustling into the kitchen, the
poor toiler woke again instantly, and, rising,
stood in a deferential attitude awaiting her
" I am afraid we have kept you sadly late
to-night," said Mrs. Jeffley.
" Oh ! that don't signify, 'm — not at all,
'm. I thought I would wait in case you
wanted anything more. Susan has gone to
bed — I told her I knew you wouldn't wish
her to sit up. Poor girl ! she has to be astir
" Yes ; and she seems a capital one for
MRS. CHILD S INTERROGATED. 105
early rising. I really think she will do,"
said Mrs. Jeffley, strong in that faith which
usually, when the sweeping of new brooms
is in question, endures for about a week.
" She seems a very still sort of young per-
son," answered Mrs. Childs, who excelled
in a species of damnatory acquiescence.
" I think she will do. I hope she will,"
repeated Mrs. Jeffley. " Well, I won't keep
you any longer."
" You are sure there is nothing else you
can remember, 'm ?" — which speech might
indeed have been dictated by a spirit of
subtle irony. " Because you know, 'm, I'll
do it with pleasure."
"No, thank you, Mrs. Childs. I'm sure
you must be tired enough. You have had
your supper ?"
" Susan wanted me to take some along
of her," was the two-edged answer, " but
I thought I'd wait, and eat a mouthful at
home with the child. Even if she's gone
to bed, nothing will content her poor heart
but to rise the minute she hears my foot
on the stair."
Having finished which affecting statement,
io6 21 IT RE COURT.
Mrs. Childs re-tied her bonnet, re-adjusted
her old rusty shawl, and, taking up her
bundle, remarked :
" These are the pieces, 'm, you were so
Q'ood as to tell me I might have."
" You have not forgotten the knuckle of
' No, m.
" Nor the piece of steak-pie ?"
" No, W
" Nor the remainder of that bread-and-
butter pudding ?"
" No, 'm ; which'll all make a nice bit of
picking for Sophiar to-morrow."
" And remind me to look you out the pair
of boots I was talking about."
" I'm sure, 'm, I return you many thanks."
'• No need to do that," said Mrs. Jeffley.
" Oh ! I knew there was something I wanted
to ask you. Do you ever now see the girl
that lives with Mr. Brisco ?"
Mrs. Childs laid down her bundle again —
she understood there was more to follow.
" Yes, 'm, I see her often — but never to
speak to. When we meets, as we can't help
meeting, she either looks straight before her,
3IRS. GUILDS INTERROGATED. 107
or else turns her head away, as if I was be-
neath eyes to rest on."
" She has grown very pretty, I hear,"
hazarded Mrs. Jeffley, half showing her
"She wouldn't be my taste," answered
Sophia's aunt, with a good deal of acrimony.
" But she is pretty, is she not ?"
" Well, 'm, every man has his own notion
of beauty. I've even heard of some as ad-
mires a cast ; so it's quite likely Miss Weir
may have found somebody that thinks her
a Venus because she's a tawny. My idea of
beauty is a good complexion ; but that may
be owing to my knowing no better."
" She is very dark, then, is she ?" asked
Mrs. Jeffley, with whose face no fault could
have been found on that score.
" There are those might call her dark.
I'd say she was yellow," was the uncom-
" Like a gipsy ?" suggested Mrs. Jeffley
" Not exactly ; gipsies have beautiful black
Hashing eyes, and coal-black hair with a wave
in it. What people find to talk about in Miss
io8 MITRE COURT.
Abigail Weir beats me ; to my notion she is
" People clo talk about her, then ?"
" Yes ; just the common sort, you under-
stand — not ladies like you, 'm, but the poorer
kind of shopkeepers round the lanes. It is
her impudence does it," finished Mrs. Childs
viciously. "If ever there was a saucy young
slut, it is the girl I saw with my own two
eyes found in Mr. Brisco's cellar by Mr.
Rrisco himself; and if he doesn't rue the day
he didn't take my offer to run for the nearest
policeman, I'll "
At this point Mrs. Childs paused, simply
because she really could think of no alterna-
tive strong enough to fit the position.
" But what is the matter with the girl ?"
asked Mrs. Jefrley.
"In a manner of speaking, everything,"
was the answer ; "she's bad, root and branch.
I know things about her she mayn't like to
hear one of these days : and if I have much
more of her nonsense, I'll up and tell her
what she believes is dead and forgotten. I
declare it makes me sick to see her running
into the Rector} 7 , and tripping about St.
MRS. CHILD S INTERROGATED. 109
Mary-at-Hill as if the parish belonged to
her. My word, if it hadn't been for the
foolishness of that poor old man, she'd have
been brought up in the workhouse, and
forced to eet her livingf harder than she
It is improbable that Mrs. Childs had ever
read Shakespeare, yet while she spoke she
felt stirring within her the spirit which
prompted the Duchess to say :
" Could I come near your beauty with my nails,
I'd set my ten commandments in your face."
As she stood beside the table with the light
from the lowered gas throwing her features a
little into shadow, she looked very shrewish
and vixenish indeed.
As a rule, Mrs. Childs sheathed her claws,
but on the subject of Miss Weir she could
not speak with equanimity ; the rise of that
young person stirred all her venom. She
was wont to go out of her way often only
in order to meet Abigail, and on the occasion
of these encounters her scorn and disgust
equalled that "upstart's" own pride.
There had been between them passages
of arms with which the world was not ac-
quainted, and though they now maintained
a strict neutrality so far as speech went, it
was armed on both sides. As James Hannay
said about the war between the Grocers and
Licensed Victuallers, at a time when the
wine and tea controversy had reached its
height, " If the one charged with grape, the
other returned with canister;" so Mrs. Childs
and Miss Weir were both keeping their
powder dry for any emergency which might
" I have never been quite able to under-
stand " began Mrs. Jefrley. " But I am
keeping you, Mrs. Childs."
" Don't speak about that, 'm ; it's a plea-
sure to serve you. As I've often said, as
Sophiar could tell you, it was like getting"
into heaven out of the worse place to change
from Botolph Lane to Fowkes' Buildings.
How I ever stopped there so long I'm sure I
don't know. Begging your pardon for inter-
rupting you, 'm, you were saying "
" That I don't understand where such a
girl could have got so well educated. Mr.
Katzen says she knows as much as if she
had been to a good boarding-school."
MRS. CHILD S INTERROGATED.
" The cat's out of the bag at last," thought
Mrs. Childs. " You wonder, 'm, where she
got her learning ?" she added aloud. " I can
tell you. First of all, she's sharp as a gimlet
— she'd pick up a thing and be away with it
while another would be looking about to see
where it was ; and then next, some of them
Sisters got hold of her, or she got hold of
them, and she was 'such a little clear,' and
such a 'clever maid,' and so 'good' and
'quiet,' and 'so much attached to her bene-
factor,' that they gave her the best of learning
and lots of presents ; and she, as one may
say, just picked out of the gutter. It's a
shame such things should be allowed, while
those that are deserving and really in need
of help couldn't get half a pound of tea — no !
not if they were to go down on their bended
knees for it."
" How old was she, do you suppose, that
night when she got into Mr. Brisco's house ?
Ten, wasn't it ?"
" She told me she was getting on for
eleven, but there, ; m, if I never stir again, I
wouldn't believe a word she spoke. She's
a hundred, if she's a day, in craft and wicked-
ness, and mischief-making. There's Mrs.
Hart, at the milk-shop ; many and many a
pint of skim, and two or three eggs, she has
slipped to me when I've gone in for a loaf,
wet and draggled and tired — till missy came,
then all was changed. Of course, Mrs. Hart
serves me now civilly, like anybody else ; but
no more nice little helps to make both ends
meet. I say it's cruel — that I do !"
" Mr. Katzen seems to have a great opinion
" I hope he mayn't find cause to change it,
"m," said Mrs. Childs, in a tone which some-
how turned the aspiration into a curse, and
so overwhelmed Mrs. JefHey's limited under-
standing, that she allowed Sophia's aunt to
betake herself to Water Lane without asking
any further question.
f£wfre|>|HE interview with Mrs. Childs, so
far from assuaging Mrs. Jeffrey's
curiosity, merely served to whet
it. She could scarcely remember the time,
since her first acquaintance with Mr. Katzen,
when the name of Abigail Weir was unknown
to her ; but till quite recently she had only
heard it spoken casually by him, or spitefully
by Mrs. Childs. Nothing could have been
imagined further from her thoughts than that
this girl — this stray — the funny little ener-
getic old woman, as Mr. Katzen while Abby
was still a child dubbed her, half in jest and
half in earnest, should cross the field of her
life, and throw a shadow upon it.
Yet already she felt as though something
vol. i. S
U4 MITRE COURT.
of the sort had happened ; and the same
nervous restlessness which impels a person
to open a door, or turn his head to look on
an unpleasant sight, urged her on to obtain
an interview with a young lady she had
hitherto thought of, when she thought of her
at all, merely as an insignificant little chit.
It is not exactly the fault of such little
chits that they have a way of shooting up
suddenly into attractively pretty girls, yet the
elders of their own sex generally regard this
progression as a sin.
Mr. Katzen's words had fallen with the
force of a blow on poor Mrs. Jeffley, who
really, spite of her many excellent qualities,
was not much wiser than most women. A
faithful wife and fond mother, no thought
calculated to wrong Jack, save as regards her
estimate of his intellectual capacity, had ever
entered, or was ever likely to enter, her mind ;
but jealousy, as it ordinarily presents itself, is
sexless, and Mrs. Jeffley certainly felt jealous
of this vague girl who had thrust herself upon
the new Consul's notice.
Further, if he took her for wife, no friend
could possibly regard such a match as desir-
MISS WEIR. us
able. A waif who had come from heaven
only knew where, and was living with a man
as poor as Job and as morose as Diogenes ;
who had, in the days when, like a strange,
half-starved cat, she was first suffered to stay
on in the old house, in the fulness of her
little heart — or, as Mrs. Childs more happily
phrased the matter, " in her uppishness" —
whitened the steps, and black-leaded the
grates, and dusted the offices, and taken a
job out of Sophia's hands, must drag a hus-
band down to the earth. Mr. Katzen might
as well propose to marry one of the wander-
ing maidens who, under the cruise of useful
servants, were always coming to Fowkes'
Buildings, ostensibly to do some work, but
really only to obtain food and wages. The
thing was appalling, and yet Mrs. jeffley
feared he had spoken more in earnest than
" I must see this dreadful pert creature,"
she thought, and she lay awake for a long
time picturing how she could easily bring
about an interview, and deciding the very
words which should be uttered in the course
ii 6 MITRE COURT.
It was Mrs. Jeffrey's excellent practice to
do all her marketing in person. The joints,
the fish, the vegetables she left to the discre-
tion of no tradesman whatsoever.
Hail, rain, shine, she repaired to Billings-
gate and Leadenhall, where she made her
purchases for the day, stinting in nothing,
vet obtaining all she required at the lowest
rates — a fact the good woman frequently
No doubt, an admirable manager ! She
said so herself often, and the sentiment was
chorused by all with whom she came in
contact, even by Mrs. Childs. Whenever,
indeed, Mrs. Jeffrey sang a song in her own
praise — a matter of not unusual occurrence —
Mrs. Childs always took up the refrain.
Even if she did not allow her voice to be
audible, she was wont to shake her head
after the manner of one who conceived words
to be insufficient for the purpose of extolling
Mrs. Jeffrey's cleverness.
Therefore, it did seem rather insincere that
in the seclusion of the upper floor she rented
in Water Lane, she should say to Sophia :
"Ah — h — h ! it's easy to buy when you've
MISS WEIR. 117
got money to buy with ; the trouble is to buy
when you ain't."
Hearing which axiom Sophia, who, like all
half-witted creatures, delighted to lie and
cheat over a farthing, was wont to swell and
shake her fat cheeks with silent laughter, and
indulge in some of those orimaces which had
won the sobriquet of " Punch" from the rude
youth of the neighbourhood.
In the watches of the night Mrs. JefHey
made up her mind as to how she should
approach Miss Weir. She would rub on no
war-paint ; she would not even appal her
with the glories of that brown silk laid aside
so recently. No ; she decided to go adorned
merely with sweet simplicity, a resolution
which the memory that her chintz costume
was a love, and beautifully made, fitting her
indeed like a glove, fully confirmed. Mrs.
Mountly had sent it home at twelve o'clock
on Saturday night, just in time to wear on
Sunday morning ; and old Captain Hassell
had said, with an unholy oath, Mrs. Jeffiey
did not look an hour over eighteen in it.
That and her brown hat, which was so taste-
fully trimmed— silk and velvet two shades,
nS MITRE COURT.
and finished off with real ostrich feathers,
small and elegant — what could be better ?
Altogether, the dress in which to encounter
Miss Weir for the first time ; certainly the
dress most suitable for such a neighbourhood,
and becoming, moreover, to a fair woman
like herself, possessed moreover of light
crinkly hair, bright hazel eyes, well-defined
eyebrows, and a good set of teeth.
For a long time Mrs. Jeffley had felt so
satisfied as to the bond fides of her mature
charms that she had not thought of enume-
rating them. Now, however, she went over
the list as a needy man might count the
money in his pocket.
Yes, they were all there — while dressing
next morning she considered them singly and
collectively as she stood before the glass —
not a solitary item was lacking ; in detail as
well as in mass, she beheld Mrs. Maria
jeffley, " whose equal," said her many devoted
admirers, " it would have been hard to find."
To a captious taste, the worst of Mrs.
jeffley was that when you had seen her- once
you had seen her always. This defect is one
inseparable from the style of beauty in which
MISS WEIR. 119
Nature deemed it best to clothe her. Some
faces that when first beheld on canvas seem
most lovely and greatly to be desired, finally
become absolutely maddening because of
their unchanging monotony. There are no
depths in the eyes to fathom, or lurking sad-
ness of expression to stimulate speculation ;
no unuttered words of reproach or tenderness
seem trembling on their lips ; the curves and
lines never even in fancy vary and deepen ;
for ever they remain the same, in joy or in
sorrow, gazing down from the wall with cold,
unsympathetic beauty. It was thus with
Mrs. Jeffley. Her good looks, her well-fed,
well-satisfied, prosperous expression seemed
an affront, not to the extraordinary specimens
of humanity that filled her house and purse,
but to ordinary, troubled, anxious, suffering,
yearning humanity such as we daily encounter
surging along the highways and byways of
our mighty London.
One person, however, at all events felt
quite satisfied with Mrs. Maria Jeffrey's face
as she saw it reflected in the mirror, and
that person was Maria Jeffley herself. She
had grown older, and stouter, and harder,
and more assured, by such slow degrees
that the alterations wrought by time were
absolutely imperceptible to the lady most
interested in them.
If she had passed eighteen, she was some-
thing much better — a woman in her prime.
She did not fear comparison with Miss Weir
or Miss anybody. Marketing of course could
not be deferred, but on her return from
Leadenhall she decided to honour Botolph
Lane with a visit.
Mrs. Jeffley had never been to the old
house ; as a rule, her own affairs provided
sufficient of interest and occupation to prevent
meddling with those of other people ; but
now she really did feel curious and some-
what anxious on the subject of a strange girl
who might at one fell swoop deprive her of
an eligible lodger and a confidential friend.
As she pondered these matters her heart
waxed hot within her, and she determined
Miss Weir should not have things all her
own way without a struggle.
Passing through the gateway that still
affords ingress from Botolph Lane to the
wide courtvard on which the old house seems
to look sorrowfully, Mrs. Jeffley picked her
steps over the rough pavement.
Even she, accustomed to London and its
broad and sudden contrasts, felt it strange to
turn out of the noisy, crowded, narrow lane,
blocked with carts, where progress even on
foot was difficult, into this still nook of the
old City, which seemed to have been borne
hither at some remote period on the restless
sea of human life, and left stranded by the
waters that had, since it was built, ebbed
out of this world, to flow back over the re-
membered shores no more for ever.
Something which Mrs. Jeffley subsequently
termed "a creeping" began to trouble that
worthy lady. As one first landing on foreign
soil examines tree and shrub and flower and
shell and bird, so this explorer, who candidly
said she "wasn't much of a one for old ruins, or
old abbeys, or old women, or old bones, or old
anything, though she liked to see what other
people saw," was impelled to pause and look at
the dog-kennel under the steps leading up to
the main entrance ; at the do^-lao hollowed in
the stones ; at the flat oblong canopy over the
hall door, under the shadow of which great
men and fair ladies must long a»"o have
stood gazing westward at the setting sun.
The door was wide open, and Mrs. Jeffley,
having slowly ascended the stone steps, and
paused beside the iron railing and glanced
round the enclosed square, could see the
beautiful marble pavement, and the long
stretch of black and white diamonds that
paved the hall.
She was standing staring at this and the
noble old staircase at the farther end, when a
door to her left opened, and a young girl
holding a piece of needlework in her hand
Mrs. Jeffley had not rung, though her
fingers were on the handle of the bell, and
the girl seemed somewhat surprised to see
anyone at the door.
" What is it ?" she asked, not brusquely or
pertly, but in the same matter-of-fact way in
which a shopman repeats his formula :
" What can I show you ?"' and then each
stood " at ease."
" You can't be Miss Weir," thought Mrs.
Jeffley, " and yet you must be. Dear me,
what a complexion !"
But she only said aloud :
"Mr. Brisco lives here, does he not ?"
" Yes ; but he is not in now. Will you
leave any message ?"
" I did not want to see him particularly,"
answered Mrs. Jefrle) 7 . " Perhaps you can
tell me if Mrs. Childs still works for
" Gracious ! no ; she has not for these six
years past !"
" Oh !" and Mrs. Jeffley added nothing
more, but stood wondering how it would be
best to continue the conversation.
Very obligingly Miss Weir took that
trouble off her hands.
"If you particularly wish to find Mrs.
Childs," she began, laying a spiteful emphasis
on the " particularly," " she used to live over
a greengrocer's shop in Water Lane, just
beyond Fowkes' Buildings. Even in case
she has moved, it is unlikely she can have
gone very far away "
" She will not be coming back here to work,
I suppose ?"
" Not if I have anything to do with the
124 MITRE COURT.
"And you have "
" Everything !" supplied Miss Weir, with a
promptness little less than appalling.
" Is she not a good worker, then ?"
" She is good enough, so far as I know,
but we don't want her here, and we are not
going to have her.''
" You are very decided about the matter."
" Very," was Abigail's answer.
''What a fine old house this seems!" said
Mrs. jefiiey, still standing on the step and
addressing the girl who stood in the hall.
"It is a fine old house," amended Miss
Weir, not rudely, for she spoke with a pleasant
" I never saw a handsomer hall."
Abby turned her head a little and glanced
round at the marble floor and the wide oak
staircase. Then she looked at Mrs. JefBey,
and smiled asfain.
" Is it here," asked her visitor, driven
almost to her wits' end, " that there is a
panelled room painted beautifully all over ?"
" We have a room," was the reply, " the
door and panels of which are painted.
Should you like to see it ?"
" Of all things," joyfully exclaimed Mrs.
Jeffley. " How very kind you are !"
" Oh no, not at all," said Abigail depre-
catingly, and then she motioned Mrs. Jeffley
to precede her into the apartment from which
she had just emerged, delightedly walking
after that lady, and with a sense of the
keenest enjoyment raising herself first on
one foot and then on the other behind the
unsuspecting Maria's back.
Heaven only knows what Mrs. Jeffley had
expected, but at all events she did not find
it. A moderate-sized room with two windows;
an old Turkey carpet on the floor ; a large
office-table in the centre ; a few chairs ; walls —
so Mrs. Jeffley subsequently stated — " nearly
as black as my shoe," with a "lot of Indians
sprawling about over them," formed a whole
little calculated to strike an utterly common
and conventional woman with astonishment.
Mrs. Jeffley's only amazement was that
anyone could be found to admire so dull and
sombre an apartment.
" It is very dark," she said.
" We do not get the sun till the afternoon,"
suggested Abigail mischievously.
" And what is the meaning of all these
things ?" asked Mrs. Jeffley, pointing with
her parasol to the paintings by Robinson.
" We should all be so glad if anyone
could tell us that," replied the girl.
" I can't make it out at all," complained
Mrs. Jeffley, wandering hopelessly from
scene to scene. " Here is something like a
church, and they have got a cat in this boat,
and I wonder what that lady can be doing
among all those savages ?"
" Haven't a notion," said Abigail, who
stood beside the table hemming most in-
" I am afraid I must be detaining
you," observed Mrs. Jeffley, pausing in
her addled efforts to understand enigmas
which had puzzled far wiser heads than
"No; you see I am going on with my
work," answered Abigail, taking a reel of
cotton out of her pocket and threading her
needle afresh. " Please look at the panels
as long as you like."
" Thank you," and Mrs. Jeffley regarded,
as if in rapt wonderment, a particularly jolly-
MISS WEIR. 127
looking savage riding with a companion on a
"He always puts me in good spirits,"
remarked the girl. " Here he is again, you
see, in this chariot drawn by antelopes."
"Well, I never!" ejaculated Mrs. Jeffley.
" No, and I do not believe anyone else
ever did," laughed Abby. " He is the funniest
Her visitor looked at the speaker doubt-
" You are Miss Weir, I suppose ?" she
" Yes; I am Miss Weir," agreed Abigail.
" And I am Mrs. Jeffley/' in a tone as
though she had said, " I am Victoria, by the
crace of God Oueen of Great Britain and
" Are you really ?" said Abigail, with well-
feigned astonishment ; " why, Mrs. Childs left
us to go to you."
Mrs. Jeffley was not much given to
chang-ino- colour ; as she was wont to remark,
forgetting how many a true word is spoken
in jest, her "blushing-days were over" — but
under the steady gaze of Miss Weir's wicked
128 MITRE COURT.
eyes she felt a crimson wave rise even to her
It was quite necessary to say something,
so she said it :
" Yes — Mrs. Childs left you to come to
me. She has been with me ever since."
" I suppose I ought to congratulate you,"
observed Abigail demurely.
"You can do about that as you please,"
retorted Mrs. Jeffley, for indeed the girl's
manner might have irritated a saint. " But
I may tell you / find Mrs. Childs a capital
" That is what everyone says," returned
Abigail, "and you know what everyone says
must be true, as the little boy remarked to his
" I am not so sure," replied Mrs. Jeffley ;
"but I was going to observe, when you in-
terrupted me "
"Yes," said the girl, as she stopped, "I
am so sorry I interrupted you, if I did "
" That," went on Mrs. Jeffley desperately,
" I made Mrs. Childs an excuse for coming
"Why?" asked Miss Weir.
MISS WEIR. 129
" Because I wanted to see you."
The girl laughed outright.
" There was no excuse needed," she said.
" I am nearly always on view."
" I couldn't know that."
" But why did you want to see me ?" in-
" Because I have been hearing so much
ahout you lately."
" Won't you sit down, Mrs. Jeffley ? I do
hope you will be able to spare time to tell me
all you have heard."
" Well, I heard, for one thing," returned
Mrs. Jeffley, " that you were a very pretty
" It is not for me to contradict that," said
Abigail thoughtfully, breaking off another
length of thread, " and I won't ask you for
your opinion, since I don't know," she added,
with a roguish twinkle, " that I much care for
being flattered to my face."
" I should not do that," replied Mrs. Jeffley.
" No, I am sure you would not," returned
" And I heard also," proceeded Mrs.
Jeffley, "about how clever you are."
vol. 1. 9
" That must have come from Mrs. Childs,
yet I wonder she is only discovering my
good qualities now."
Mrs. Jeffley made no answer. Already
she had committed herself sufficiently.
"What an industrious girl you seem to
be !" she said.
" Oh ! very," agreed Abigail.
" Now I wonder " began Mrs. Jeffley,
and then she stopped.
"What do you wonder?" asked Miss
" Whether you would feel offended if I
asked you to do some needlework for me ?"
" Quite the reverse — should be glad."
"Well — -will you do some ?"
" If I can — what is it ?"
" Children's clothes ; you can make them,
I feel confident."
"Yes, I can make them, I dare say."
" Will you send round for the work,
"No, I will come — there is no one here to
" Do you mean to tell me really you live
in this huge barrack of a place all alone?"
"You forget Mr. Brisco lives here too —
you came to see him, you know."
" What a take-off you are !" retorted Mrs.
Jeffley, a little peevishly. " I have said I
came to see you and you only ; and I am
very glad I did come, for I hope I shall
see a great deal of you."
"You will, if you can give me plenty cf
work and I am able to do it to please you,"
" You will be able to please me, I have
little doubt. Are you not dreadfully dull
" Dull ! not in the least. I always find
plenty to do, and besides, in the day-time
people are coming and going. Of course
this is not a fair sample. On Whit-Tuesday
there is scarcely anything doing."
" One of my lodgers has offices here, has
he not?" said Mrs. Jeffley, unconsciously
following the example set by the daughter of
a publisher and editor who, being asked at a
party who a lady was, languidly replied,
" One of my papa's contributors."
"I do not know any of your lodgers who
can have an office here, except Mr. Katzen,"
answered Miss Weir, with pitiless directness.
"Is it Mr. Katzen you mean ?"
"Yes, Mr. Katzen, the Consul for New
" He is going to leave us."
" I suppose you are very sorry."
" Mr. Brisco is ; for myself, I feel if the
change be for Mr. Katzen's good I ought
not to repine."
" That is a very pretty sentiment."
" And a very proper one too;" and Abigail,
having finished the little pinafore she was
making, laid it flat on the table and began to
fold it up.
"What a clever man Mr. Katzen is!"
said Mrs. Jeffley.
" So Mr. Brisco says."
"And so very kind."
" I never heard Mr. Brisco say anything
" He is a most generous person."
"So he has often told me, and he ought to
know ;" and then Miss Weir looked up
archly at Mrs. Jeffley and laughed, and Mrs.
Jeffley looked at Miss Weir and laughed too.
Why she did so it would be hard to say,
except perhaps because she felt the date
of Mr. Katzen's departure from Fowkes'
Buildings would not be speedily fixed.
" Well. I must be going," she said at last.
" I shall look up some work for you at once.
When can you come round ?"
"To-morrow," was the prompt rejoinder.
" Between eleven and twelve ? Will that
suit you ?"
"Yes, I will make it suit me," answered
the girl. " I can let you out at the other
door, Mrs. Jeffley — it is nearer for you than
going round by Botolph Lane."
MR. KATZENS LOVE.
S Miss Weir closed the door leading
into Love Lane, after Mrs. Jef-
fley, and turned in order to pro-
ceed to her own room, she saw Mr. Katzen,
who had entered the house by the front en-
trance, crossing the hall.
" Have you lost the little pain in your
temper which was troubling you yesterday,
my lofe ?" he asked.
For answer, Abigail stuck her dimpled im-
pudent chin in the air, and without even
bestowing one look on her admirer, walked
along the passage leading to the kitchens
Mr. Katzen sighed audibly, and then went
upstairs laughing. That morning his spirits
MR. KATZEN'S LOVE.
were remarkably good, and everything — even
the conquest of Miss Weir — seemed to him
Half an hour later he paused outside the
door of the apartment which served the pur-
pose indiscriminately of workroom, kitchen,
parlour, study, and guest-chamber. He
stopped and listened — Abigail was singing
louder than her canary bird.
" The girl is happy," he thought, " happy
in this wretched house. How does she
manage to keep up her spirits ?" and then
" Come in," cried out Abigail, in a clear
steady voice. " Come in — oh ! it is you, is
it ?" she went on. "Well, Mr. Katzen, and
what do you want ?"
" I want a chat with the fair Abigail," he
" Meaning me ?"
" Meaning you, and none other. No
offence, I hope."
" No offence has been taken as yet ; and
if I were you, I would not give any."
Without waiting for any invitation, he seated
himself on a wooden form which stood beside
136 MITRE COURT.
the hearth. All the furniture was simple,
not to say rude ; but everything was scrubbed
snowy white, and through the well-cleaned
windows bright sunshine poured into a room
innocent of dust or motes.
The canary's song had ceased at Mr. Kat-
zen's entrance, like Abby's own, and the bird
was now hopping about the room, and occa-
sionally setting its head on one side to survey
Miss Weir's visitor.
" What a busy young lady you are !" he
said, glancing at the pile of work which lay
tidily folded up on the table.
He had known that fact for so long a time,
the young lady he addressed did not seem to
think comment upon it necessary.
" I do not like to see you working your
pretty fingers to the bone," he went on.
Miss Weir lifted her left hand, and regarded
it attentively. It was small, dimpled, plump.
" There are no bones visible," she remarked,
apparently in a spirit of the calmest criticism.
" No, indeed."
" Considerinc: the amount of work I have
done, do you not think they ought to have
been showing by this time ?"
MR. KATZEN'S LOVE. 137
" Ah ! my dear, you know that is not what
I mean. It is not right for a young girl to
drudge and slave as you do."
" Why not ?"
" Because young girls ought to enjoy
"I enjoy myself," she replied, turning down
a hem as she spoke with great vigour and de-
termination ; "there is nothing I like so much
" That is all very well, but it ought to be
" This is profitable "
" Yes — yes — I understand, it may bring
you in a few shillings, which you will spend
in buying something for a man who scarcely
speaks to you."
" If I did not spend it on him, on whom
should I spend it, pray ?"
" On your pretty self."
" I do spend a great deal on my pretty self."
" Fie — fie — Miss Weir, to say that to me,
who, sitting: even where I am, can see all the
darns and patches in your dress!"
" I am not ashamed of your seeing the
patches in my dress."
1 38 MITRE COURT.
'•' No ! though you know it is said — a rent
may be accident, but a darn is premeditated
" My darns are premeditated poverty then ;
and as for this gown, it is good enough for in-
doors. I have a better for Sundays."
" May I come and see it ?"
"You can see it if you like to go to
church, but then I suppose you never go
" I should like to hear one service there
with you — not, however, the order for morn-
" If you mean the solemnization of matri-
mony, I will tell you when I am going to be
" To me, though — only to me !"
"' That is quite another affair," she said
" But you will marry me, Abigail ?"
" You have not yet' asked me," she returned,
holding a finger to her canary, which imme-
diately availed itself of the offered perch.
Mr. Katzen looked at the girl.
Things were ^ettin^ on faster than he had
intended ; but, spite of her poor surroundings,
MR. KATZEN'S LOVE. 139
of all he knew about her past, she seemed
captivating with the morning sun streaming
upon her lissom figure, her lips a little pursed
up as she tweeted to the bird, her long dark
lashes brushing the rich tints of her soft
cheeks ; and he took her at her word.
" Will you marry me?" he asked. Without
raising her eyes or turning her head, she
" Certainly not."
"Well, that is civil, I must say," said the
new Consul, rising in hot wrath. " Here
you, whom I have known since you were a
chit of a child "
"With scarce a shoe to my foot," she
prompted, still contemplating her canary.
" Lead me on," he continued — declining
her addition to his sentence — " to propose to
you — for, though you may not think it, I
made an actual proposal which I mean to
stand by — and you state, as if I had only
asked you if you would have an orange,
' Certainly not.'"
" I never was very civil, I am afraid," she
said, looking at him now with a whole world
of meaning in the depths of her dark eyes.
i 4 o MITRL COURT.
" I suppose I ought to have added that I felt
very much obliged."
"You are enough m drive a man mad!"
he returned. "Are you in jest — or do you
think I am ?"
"No; I fancy you arc in earnest. And
nothing was further from my mind than jest-
ing, I assure you."
"In plain English, you really mean you
will not marry me ?"
" I really will not marry you."
For a moment Mr. Katzen stood silent,
gazing at the girl with a sort of sullen
" I move then," hi said at last, with a
forced, uneasy laugh, " that we read the Bill
this day six months."
" Or six years," amended Miss Weir, "or
sixty; time will make no difference on my
"We will see," he answered. " How is it
you never have a smile or a pleasant word
for me ? How is it you are willing to do
anything for an old man v\ ho scarcely knows,
and I am sure does not care, whether you
are living or dead, while you treat me — me,
MR. AM TZEN'S LOVE. 141
Karl Katzen, to whom others of your sex
have not been so indifferent — as thoueh I
were unworthy of your notice."
" I am sure I can scarcely tell," she replied.
" Perhaps I like Mr. Brisco so much because
he does not want to marry me."
" But why should you not wish to marry
me ?" he persisted. " The mere prospect of
leaving this house — this horrible dead-and-
alive house "
" I am not at all anxious to leave this
house," she interrupted.
" Almost all girls take kindly to their first
" Do they ? Some of them must begin to
be fond early, then !"
'•' That is your case, probably," he sneered.
"No doubt you lost your heart long ago to
that young man round the corner."
" Which comer?" she asked. " Be precise;
there are lots of corners about here."
Her saucy speech restored Mr. Katzen's
" Come, Abby," he said, " you and I must
not quarrel. Some day you will be sorry
for the way you are treating me now.
142 MITRE COURT.
I am going to make a great success — I mean
to be a millionnaire yet. Smooth down your
ruffled feathers, and tell me, like my good
lofe, if you would not like to be Baroness
von Katzenstein ?"
" Not if you were Baron von Katzenstein,"
she replied demurely.
" You cannot make me angry with you,"
he returned. " I intend you to marry me as
soon as I can afford to support a wife in the
style I should like my wife to live, and in
the meantime I wish to show you what a
mild, genial, forgiving person I am."
" Saul among the prophets !" suggested
Miss Weir, threading her needle.
"We know who can quote Scripture,"
returned her suitor.
" Mr. Brisco's opinion is, that the some-
body you mean does not quote Scripture."
" It says in the Bible that he does."
" Mr. Brisco would be obliged if you could
tell him where. As you do not seem to have
much to do, you might go over to the
Rectory and borrow a ' Concordance.' '
" You are flippant this morning, Miss
MR. KA TZEN 'S LOVE. 143
" Perhaps that may be because I have had
an early visitor."
" What, the new curate ! By Heaven ! I
thought there was something under all
" No, not the new curate."
" Your young man, then, I suppose, from
round the corner ?"
" No; not a man, young or old, from round
the corner or anywhere else. My visitor
was your great friend Mrs. Jeffley."
" The deuce she was ! And what did Mrs.
Jeffley want ?"
" Her ostensible errand was to know
whether Mrs, Childs still worked here."
" Good Lord ! and what did you tell
"I told her Mrs. Childs had not worked
here for nearly six years, and that with my
goodwill she should never work here again."
"If you have a fault, my Abigail — which,
however, I do not assert, remember — it is
excessive candour, a candour which at times
is almost painful. But proceed, dear girl."
"I do not know that there is much to
H4 MITRE COURT.
" You said Mrs. Jeffley's ostensible errand
was to ask concerning poor, dear, grimy Mrs.
Childs. Did she not tell you the nature of
her real mission ?"
" No, she did not tell me at first, but I
found that out for myself. She wanted to
" Vainest of vain young persons ! You
think all the world wants to see you. No
doubt, though, Mrs. Jeffley admired you
very much indeed."
" She ought, I am sure ; but I have my
misgivings on that point."
" May I ask, why these misgivings ?"
" Well, for one reason, because I am not
in the least like Mrs. Jeffley."
" I agree with you there. You are not
like Mrs. Jeffley — not like what Mrs. Jeffley
ever could have been in her best days ; but
what of that ?"
" All, I should say."
" But, my sweet darling, my dearest
Abigail, my spouse that is to be in the happy
future stretching away before us that is
right; smile — I delight to see your dimples —
you ladies do love to look on a pretty face."
MR. KATZEN 1 S LOVE. 145
" So far as my experience goes, no lady
loves to look on any pretty face but her
The answer delighted Mr. Katzen. He
burst into a fit of laughter, this time perfectly
natural and spontaneous.
"Your experience, child," he repeated;
" that must be large indeed. It embraces,
probably, Mrs. Brown, in Love Lane, and
Mrs. Robinson, in St. Mary-at-Hill."
" To say nothing of Miss Jones, in Botolph
Alley," added Miss Weir pertly. " You
forget, however, Mr. Katzen, my experience
of life beean before I ever entered this house.
And even if it had not "
"Why do you stop, fair maiden? — 'even
if it had not ' "
" Supposing you wanted to tell the world
all about the nature and habits, say of ants,
should you not know their ways and habits
as well after you had watched a hundred in
their daily life as if you watched a million ?"
" The point you wish to express being
probably that, having -studied the vanity,
meanness, and littleness of the female Brown,
Jones and Co. of .your acquaintance, you
vol. 1. 10
146 MITRE COURT.
would be competent to write an exhaustive
analysis of the characters of Cleopatra or
Queen Elizabeth ?"
" I should be competent to form an opinion
of their weaknesses, at any rate," retorted
the girl. " It would be very strange if, living
so much alone, I had not thought a great
deal about many subjects concerning which
most people never trouble their heads, and I
have come to the conclusion that vanity is as
strong a failing among women as jealousy
" God help your foolish, innocent little
heart !" said Mr. Katzen ; " men are never
" Oh, aren't they ?" scoffed Abigail.
" I mean in a general way, of course.
There are and must be cases where even the
instinct of self-preservation induces a certain
amount of perfectly righteous jealousy in a
" I was not talking about any case of that
sort," said Miss Weir calmly, as though she
had spent her whole life in the practice of the
"What were you talking about then,
MR. KATZEN'S LOVE. 147
dearest — though not wisest — of dear
" About men being jealous of each other,
for what I should call nothing. If anyone of
you gets on, makes a name, makes a fortune,
marries a rich wife or a beauty, buys a hand-
some horse, starts a drag, sets up a carriage,
immediately every man he knows grows
wildly jealous. I have seen," finished Abby,
sapiently shaking her head, " quite enough to
" Really, to be scarce seventeen, you are
wonderfully cynical, young lady. I wonder
if any man is jealous of me ;" and he looked
sharply at the girl, upon whose figure the
sunlight was streaming at the moment in a
" You will soon be able to tell that now,"
returned Abigail, with the most guileless
expression on her face.
" Why, in Heaven's name, should I soon
be able to tell that now ?"
" Because you are getting so prosperous.
You are Consul in England for — what is the
name of that outlandish place ? You are
going to make a fortune ; then you will buy
10 — 2
143 MITRE COURT.
a title ; then you will fit yourself up a castle
on the Rhine or in Spain — it does not much
matter which ; then you will get a cab to take
away your luggage from Fowkes' Buildings,
and leave poor Mrs. Jeffley broken-hearted."
" And the same morning I will marry
" I forgot that ; and then all the City
gallants who have been blocking Botolph
Lane for years past, and insisting upon my
smiling on them, will want to cut your
"It is not always safe, my dear, to make
what you call fun of a man who is in earnest."
" Did I ever say you were not in earnest,
Mr. Katzen ? On the contrary, I believe,
as a rule, you are almost as serious as Mr.
" He, at all events, is a person scarcely
likely to excite envy."
" Except on the grounds of being so
" Do you know, Abby, it just occurs to
me you are in love with your benefactor."
" Perhaps I am ; there is no just cause or
impediment, is there ?"
MR. KATZEN' S LOVE. 149
" None that I know of; but it might be
prudent for you to make a few inquiries into
his past history before taking him for better
or worse. For aught you can tell, he may
have a wife already "
" Or a dozen."
" No need for a dozen ; you will find one
a sufficient barrier."
" Quite a mistake, Mr. Katzen. One
might die — be poisoned, for example ; but
how could any person poison a dozen ?"
And the girl looked up mischievously, and
then resumed her stitching.
There was a pause — the canary, which had
fluttered up to its mistress' shoulder, con-
sidering a convenient moment had arrived
for favouring the company, suddenly burst
into song. For a little while there was no
sound save that of flutelike shakes and silver
trilling roulades. Sunshine still streamed
down on Abby's figure ; her busy needle
glinted in and out. Mr. Katzen, soothed
by the silence and the picture of quiet
domesticity, held his peace for a time ;
but at length he broke the spell by say-
i 5 o MITRE COURT.
" And so you do not think that Mrs. Jeffley
admired you ?"
" She admires you, which is much more to
the purpose," answered Miss Weir.
" I always believed Mrs. Jeffley to be a
lady possessed of a most excellent judgment,
and now I know my belief was right."
" Happy Mrs. Jeffley!"
" May I ask, dear Abigail, how happy
Mrs. Jeffley impressed you ?"
" I don't think she is a bad sort of person.
She promised to give me plenty of work ;"
and Mr. Katzen's dear Abigail broke a length
of cotton off her spool and threaded her
" And you said ' Thank you/ I suppose,
and hoped you would give satisfaction ?"
" Of course ! Why should I not ? If I
give satisfaction I can get work, and the
more work I am able to sret the better I am
With a smothered exclamation, Mr. Katzen
rose from his bench and paced the room.
" When will you learn not to make your-
self so cheap ?" he asked.
" What has happened ?" returned the girl.
MR. K AT ZEN'S LOVE. 151
" Nothing special has come to me during the
last week. / have not been made consul
anywhere. I must go on sewing just as if
there were not such a place on earth as New
" You need not," he said. " Only speak
the word, and I will take you away from this
miserable life — from this grinding drudgery."
" Time enough to talk of all that when
you have made your fortune," answered Miss
Weir, in a tone which implied she considered
such a period likely to be somewhat re-
" Do you know, there are moods of yours
which make me feel as if I should like to
For a second Miss Weir suspended her
employment, and looked at her lover.
"In some countries, I have read," she
said, " that is the approved mode of court-
ship ; in England, however, the custom is
different. So you had better wait till I am
Mrs. Katzen before adopting such a form of
Again he broke into laughter ; partly be-
cause he felt relieved she had not quite taken
152 MITRE COURT.
him at his word, greatly because this especial
sort of badinage possesses for many men an
" What a funny girl you are !" he ex-
claimed. "One never knows how to take
you ;" and then, still stitching away, she
laughed too, while the canary excelled all
previous efforts in the way of melody.
"You seem" — at this juncture interposed
a thin, sarcastic voice — " to be particularly
merry here. I hope I don't intrude."
" On the contrary," said Mr. Katzen, rising
and holding out his hand in greeting to Mr.
Brisco. " I have been waiting your return,
and Miss Weir has kindly enlivened the time
by airing some quite original views concern-
" Concerning marriage — humph ! Will
you kindly walk into my office for a few
minutes, Mr. Katzen," he went on, " if you
want to speak to me ?"
As they passed out together, the pity she
so often felt for the friendless, desolate man
stirred Abby's young heart to its very depths.
Something in his worn face and wasted figure
— some suggested contrast between Mr. Kat-
MR. KATZEN' S LOVE.
zen, confident of success, and her benefactor,
poor, struggling, lonely — stung her like the
cut of a whip, and running after them, she
said to Mr. Brisco :
" You won't go out again without having
something to eat ? Dinner is quite ready."
For a moment he looked at her in surprise.
Her manner was so earnest.
" Promise me," she persisted. " You know,
when you fast from morning till night you are
" I promise then," he answered ; but he
spoke the words reluctantly.
"She is right," said Mr. Katzen, as the
girl left them. " It is not well to go for
many hours without food. What a strange
child she is !"
" Most strange," agreed Mr. Brisco, " to
devote her life to one against whom Fate has
such a spite."
" I don't know that exactly," dissented
Mr. Katzen. " She owes so much to you,
that it would be strange indeed were she not
" She owes so little to me," returned Mr.
Brisco, " that I wonder she is grateful at all."
1 5 4 MITRE COURT.
" I have but to repeat, it would be odd
if she were not grateful. You had better
make as much of her as you can while she is
" While she is with me ? — what do you
mean ? Where is she going ?"
" She will go the way of all women,"
laughed Mr. Katzen. " Do you suppose
you will be able to keep her for ever ? Do
you think young men are blind ? It is all
very well for us to talk of her as a child ; but
you may be wise, Mr. Brisco, to notice she
has shot up into a girl — a pretty girl, a pre-
cocious girl — who has got it in her to go very
far wrong as well as very far right."
" I never thought of her marrying," said
Mr. Brisco ; " such an idea never entered my
mind, save perhaps as a remote contingency
— at some distant time. Have you any rea-
son to think — • — -"
" No — not I," answered Mr. Katzen as the
other paused, leaving his interrogatory un-
spoken ; "but when I see a good-looking
girl, the conclusion is not hard to draw that
other people may see she is good-looking
MR. KATZEN'S LOVE. 155
Half an hour passed slowly by. The
canary was still singing, Abby still sewing,
the dinner still simmering on the hob — and
still Mr. Brisco did not put in an appearance.
At the end of that time the girl rose, lifted
the lid of the saucepan, shook her head
doubtfully, and began to lay the cloth.
She made as much noise as she could with
plates, forks, and spoons, and often paused
in her task to listen for the opening of a door.
At length she heard one open and shut.
" He will be here presently, pretty Dick,"
she confided to her bird, and then, looking
round, she beheld Mr. Katzen once again.
" So you've made up your mind to go at
last," she said. " I thought perhaps you
were intending to stop all day."
" Such pleasure is not for a poor drudge
like me. Good-bye, my darling lofe," and
he threw a kiss towards her ; " farewell for
the present, Baroness von Katzenstein."
" Good-day, Duke of Rhineland," retorted
Miss Weir. " You have spoiled our dinner.
Do go before you spoil my temper too !"
" Ah ! my God, that would be a mis-
fortune !" he remarked, and went his way.
OUND and about the old house in
% I2S^$S Botolph Lane churches lie thick
Q^k, as leaves in autumn.
And with few exceptions autumn leaves
could scarce seem more sere and dead than
they. Here and there some notable preacher
or well-trained choir attracts a congregation,
but as a rule the old citizens mouldering to
dust are not more lifeless than the weekly
services attended by some dozen adults and
And all the while there is a great multitude
waiting without, willing to answer if only
called in some intelligible language — a mighty
multitude that would fill the now empty seats
to overflowing- — a restless and curious -multi-
tude it may be, like the Athenians, over-fond
of novelty, yet owning souls to be saved,
and minds to be filled, and hearts to be
Empty as most of the City churches are
now, they were emptier in the days when
Mrs. Jefifley kept her lodging-house in
Plenty of choice and to spare had her
captains and mates and other residents in the
matter of pews and spiritual refreshment.
Some went here, some there, some nowhere.
Each Sunday morning regularly Mr. Jeffley
repaired to All Hallows, Barking. It was
an easy distance, just across the street ; but
Mrs. Jeffley was never able to manage the
She had something else to do, she said, than
go to church ; she wondered " Jack could be so
absurd as to suppose it was possible for her
to leave the house. If he were like anybody
else, he would know she could not go out
while there was an early dinner to cook for
so many people."
" But you do not cook it," ventured Mr.
Jeffley, on one occasion.
158 MITRE COURT.
" That has nothing to do with the matter,"
retorted Mrs. Jeffley. " Who'd see to things,
I'd be glad to know, if I was like some
women, thinking of myself and going to
church and the theatres, and all sorts of
amusements ? There are wives so situated
they can leave their houses without every-
thing going to wreck and ruin, but I am not
one of them. I only wish I was. It is not
from choice I stop moping indoors ; but
there ! what is the good of talking ? As you
are of no use at home, do take the children
out of my way."
Which Mr. Jeffley was wont to do, nothing
loth, though he would have preferred con-
ducting his progeny to church more suitably
attired. A plain man himself, flowers,
feathers, and finery seemed to his mind out
of place in the severe dignity of All Hallows,
Having, however, found remonstrance of
no avail, honest Jack resigned himself to this
dispensation as he had to others. It was
not his way to quarrel. The soft answer
which is usually supposed to turn away wrath,
was that in which he most excelled, and if he
sometimes carried a sore heart with him into
the house of God, at least he never took
there the memoy of any bitter word he could
have wished to recall.
Often Frank Scott, who generally ac-
companied him to the square pew where
the children sat well in evidence, would,
remembering the fray which usually preceded
poor Mr. Jeffley's dismissal to public worship,
involuntarily edge a little closer to his
No sentence had ever passed between
them concerning the perfections or imperfec-
tions of the self-styled best of wives ; but
Frank Scott knew Jack understood his
silence meant no absence of sympathy, and
Jack mentally thanked Frank for that silence
more than he would have thanked any man
When once the dinner, on which Mrs.
Jeffley found it necessary to concentrate all
the strength of her intellect, was over, the
members of the establishment were free to
do whatever seemed best to them. After
that stupendous culinary effort Mrs. Jeffley
felt her hands were free.
160 MITRE COURT.
" Tea will be ready at half-past five," she
was wont to say, " for any person who wants
it." As a rule, very few did want it, grog
being a beverage much more to the taste of
Mrs. Jeffrey's seafaring friends than Congou.
Supper was laid at nine — cold always.
Each individual has his own way of
keeping the Christian Sabbath holy. Mrs.
Jeffrey kept it with cold meat, salad, and
"There is never any cooking in my house,"
she frequently declared, " on Sundays after
two o'clock dinner ; other people can do as
they like, of course, but I am not going to
have chops and steaks and kidneys grilling
from morning till night on Sundays for any-
Water for internal use was the only thing
to be found hot in Mrs. Jeffrey's domain after
the hour she mentioned, but of it a generous
supply was provided.
Those who remained at home, and those
who passed the evening out, alike seemed to
require quantities of that innocent fluid.
" Pah !" said Mr. Katzen. " On Sunday
night the house reeks of rum and whisky ;"
and he might have added of tobacco as well,
and afterwards inserted an addendum to the
effect that it reeked every night in like
So long as Jack "took himself out" of his
wife's way, she cared very little where he
spent the hours after his dinner on Sunday.
Usually he went a few miles into the
country to see some farmer friend, taking
one or more of the children with him.
Mr. Katzen had friends likewise, though
unconnected with agriculture ; and when he
did not visit them he was wont, weather and
season permitting, to stroll into Hyde Park
and picture to himself the time when he too
would have his equipage — his coachman, his
footman, and pair of chestnuts.
On the Sunday following that Whitsuntide,
when what he mentally styled " a great piece
of luck " came to him, some vague idea of
repairing to morning service and seeing Abby
in her best bib and tucker crossed his mind ;
but he refrained — first, because he had not a
notion which church Miss Weir attended ;
and second, because though flirting with and
even offering to marry her under the rose
VOL. i. 1 1
1 62 MITRE COURT.
was one thing, appearing in public as her
lover seemed quite another. He meant no
wrong by the girl ; if he had, he was aware
it would have been of no use ; and in any
case, though not a man timid of consequences,
he knew the storm, in such event certain to
ensue, might be dangerous.
But what he called his heart did not hold
any evil intention towards Abby. As a
friend, as a comrade, as a wife, he felt she
would suit him to perfection, but Abby be-
trayed seemed quite another matter.
" I shouldn't care to be the man," he
considered ; " and yet girls as high-spirited
as she have, without any great amount of
persuasion either, trodden the downward path
and proved meek enough at the bottom."
With a feeling almost of dread, Mr. Katzen
turned from the picture himself had drawn.
" What can that old fool be thinking of?"
ne considered, " to leave her alone as he
does ? She might get into any mischief and
he be not a bit the wiser. When I give up
my office, who will be on the spot to know
who comes and who goes ? It is necessary
for thee to get rich, my Karl, and remove
her from temptation ; but till I am a little
firmer I must not go too fast, I must refrain
from spending time with my pretty vixen.
And she also, she will like me the better
when she sees that, after all, a man's whole
world is not bounded by the light in a
woman's eyes. My faith, neither is it ! If
there were not a woman on earth, plenty of
things would remain worth striving for — and
money can buy them. That is so, my Karl ;
money friend, money — the root of all evil,
the root of all good !"
As if in support of his theory, Miss Weir
did on that especial Trinity Sunday morning,
when she entered church, give one swift
glance round as if searching for an expected
face. She was adorned in youth ; a pretty
coquettish bonnet, small, and of a shape just
then in vogue. Her dress, of some cheap
effective material, fitted her to perfection.
Everything about her was trim, and what
anyone of Mrs. Jeffley's admirers might truly
have called "taut" — no flying ribbons, or
waving plumes, or ends of lace. The set of
her gown, the fit of her boots and gloves,
reminded one of a Frenchwoman ; but she
1 1 — 2
1 64 MITRE COURT.
was fresh and bright and wholesome, and
good to look upon, as though that moment
come out of some great English country-
house. There mi^ht be much in her lot, and
something in her cruel past, a good mother
could have wished different, but there was
nothing in her face.
Across it sunshine and shadow were for
ever playing at hide-and-seek. Now the
eyes were dancing with amusement and
smiles that showed cunning dimples in the
cheeks, and made any male onlooker believe
the girl could never seem prettier than
when full of fun, nearly rippling over into
But when she was serious — when sad or
grave or sorry — there arose out of the depths
of her nature an expression which gave to
every feature a beauty hitherto lacking. It
seemed as though at such times it was her
real soul which looked out of the window of
her eyes — the spirit known only to God—
which for a brief instant made itself dimly
perceived. Then, as through a veil darkly,
there could be caught a glimpse of a nature
able to bear, not merely patiently, but cheer-
SUNDA Y. 165
fully, such loneliness and deprivation and
hardship as fall to the lot of few.
Out of the unlikeliest materials she had
built a palace of content. In her life, as in
the room where she spent most of her solitary
hours, there was nothing - the world would
have accounted beautiful or desirable, yet she
so set out and decked her existence, just
as she did the few articles her apartment
contained, that she ended by making believe
she had everything at command the heart of
woman need desire to render her happy.
Pass out from some great house where you
have seen the children of rich people — pale
and peevish, tired of luxury, weary of their
toys, disgusted by the very profusion of gifts
they have received — and, wandering into the
nearest street in which Poverty dwells, ask
yourself whether even in this world there is
no compensation for the poor ? Behold yon
group of happy, grimy little girls gathered
round the proud possessor of that old, filthy,
battered wooden doll, which has met with
every casualty possible to its species. It has
lain among the cinders— it has been thrust
between the bars of the orate — it has been
1 66 MITRE COURT.
flung against brick walls by rude boys, and
got its nose battered — it has not as much
hair on its pate as could suffice to split a
cane ; yet it remains beautiful to the imagina-
tion of its followers. It is hugged to sleep
in the arms of some tiny child scarce less
ugly, and quite as dirty as itself. Or view
this group of young persons, not one of
whose ages exceeds five years. They are
kneeling or squatting on the pavement —
which can make their garments no grimier
than before — engaged in the entrancing occu-
pation of making a mud pie. They are as
filthy as the pie, but that adds to the pleasure
of their lives. They know at any moment a
shrill voice, followed by the possessor of a
strong hand, may come to interrupt their joy ;
but they catch the fleeting moments — the
very incertitude intensifies their rapture.
The upshot of all of which is, that they
who have the least enjoy it the most ; that
the mind can spread a feast out of the
humblest viands : that for the benefit of
those of low estate and of no account,
miracles, which to the rich might well seem
tantamount to the marvel of five thousand
being fed on five barley-loaves and two small
fishes, are daily repeated.
For Abigail Weir most certainly they
were. In the time which ensued after she
sought and found a shelter in Botolph Lane,
she had not even the semblance of a wooden
doll wherewith, like other children, to play
at mother, nurse, schoolmistress, aunt and
sister ; but she made her own play for her-
self. The very stones of the courtyard
seemed capable of providing the poor waif
with amusement. The old house — with its
leads, its long passages, its steep back-stairs,
its brewhouse, its inlaid circles on the draw-
ing-room chimney-piece, its marble hearths,
its wainscots, its panelling — was to her a
kingdom, the resources of which seemed in-
The moment she grew strong enough to
stand on her poor thin little legs she began
to sing, and then to try to be useful. Since
those days the years had passed, and she
was, as Mr. Katzen truthfully said, a child
" not any more," but she was merry and
On that Trinity Sunday, the few persons
1 68 MITRE COURT.
who were in church knew and spoke to her.
She was a stray, friendless and desolate no
longer, but a bright, pretty girl, who, having
worked hard for six days, always looked for-
ward to the beofinninQ" of a week as the
happiest of happy seasons.
She had left the dinner cooking itself, and
on her return home served it almost immedi-
ately. It was a simple meal, as simple almost
as meal could be ; yet Mr. Brisco declared
such an expenditure could not possibly con-
" Put any money you have to spare in the
savings-bank," he said almost harshly; "but
don't spend it on luxurious meals. You will
want it all some day. Supposing anything
were to happen to me, and you were forced
to turn out of here, how would you pay, even
for lodgings, if you did not possess a sixpence
between you and starvation ?"
" I don't mean anything to happen to
you," she answered ; " but if anything did
happen," she went on, recognising the evil
mood which held possession of Mr. Brisco,
" we know who tempers the wind to the
shorn lamb. Was not I a shorn lamb when
I came here ? and only think what a warm
fold I have lain snug in ever since !"
As she spoke, she laid her hand impul-
sively on Mr. Brisco's arm.
With distressing promptitude he removed
and eave it back to her aQ-ain. He was wont
thus to repress any approach to familiarity.
If he did not say in so many words that such
demonstrations were unpleasant to him, he
told her the fact by actions which were un-
mistakable. They had lived together during
years, yet though the girl loved him with all
her heart, they w T ere scarcely nearer than the
first night they met.
Mr. Brisco barely tasted the frugal dinner,
and before Abigail had finished her meal he
took his hat and went out. Shortly after his
departure, Miss Weir also emerged from the
gloom of the house, so old, so changed, so
lonely, so forlorn, into the bright sunshine
which bathed Tower Street, as if in a sea of
LESS THAN KIN.
iN the very heart of the City there
are on Sunday walks to be found
as quiet and as desolate as though
Cheapside were Box Hill, or Lombard Street
From Ironmonger Lane to St. Martin's-
le-Grand anyone may thread his way through
passages where scarce a creature is to be
encountered, and if he likes to continue his
peregrinations, he can by a series of similar
courts and alleys get in equal silence to
It was this precise route Abigail Weir
followed in the calm stillness of that glorious
In some of the churches service was aa-ain
LESS THA N KIN. 1 7 1
in progress, and every now and then a burst
of psalmody or a long-drawn-out " Amen "
rent for a moment the heavy cloud of calm
stillness which hung over the great City.
Slowly the girl paced the narrow passages,
not alone. At a glance it might have been
seen she was accustomed thus to walk fre-
quently, for between herself and her com-
panion there evidently existed such an amount
of intimacy as rendered constant conversation
Abigail looked very sweet. Her heart
was full, and the tender light of a sorrowful
and infinite compassion lay softly upon her
young face. The man — naturally it was a
man who kept step with her, shortening his
own strides in order to do so — from time to
time stole a glance at her. Something had
vexed her, and he scarcely cared to ask what
it was. Friends, however, cannot long keep
silence under such circumstances, and at
length he asked tentatively :
" What are you thinking of, Abby ? What
is the worry ?"
She looked up at him with a suspicion of
tears in those eyes which, though in no sense
172 MITRE COURT.
"fine," were after all, this man felt, the
dearest, truest eyes friend or lover could
wish to meet.
" Worth all the browns and blacks and blues
ever painted or sung," thought this mad adorer,
forgetful of the thousand shades and shapes
each of those despised colours can assume.
" There is no worry," answered Abby. " I
was thinking of Mr. Brisco."
" You are always thinking of him," said the
young man — he was young — a little reproach-
" Not always, though very often," amended
" If he were your father he could not be
more constantly in your mind."
" If he were my father I should not fret
about him as I do."
" Why not ?"
" Because in that case he would surely let
me do something he will not now."
" What something ?"
" Let me show that I am fond of him," she
said softly, and then her full heart could
contain itself no longer, and she poured her
trouble into sympathetic ears.
LESS THAN KIN. 173
"It was not what you would account a
nice dinner," she went on, "but I had taken
pains to get something I thought he would
like — and — and — it seems stupid, but "she
broke off abruptly, and then added, " I wish
— I wish I knew how I could please him.
I do try hard."
" Don't you know, Abby," said the young
man, " there are some persons so unfortu-
nately constituted that they cannot be pleased,
who, unhappy themselves, make everyone else
unhappy ? I am afraid this is the case with
"No, the fault is in myself; perhaps I
am too anxious, or perhaps he cannot forget
what a forlorn, wretched creature I was when
I skulked into his house like a starved cat."
" Why do you talk of the past ?"
" I cannot tell, unless because it has been
so present with me lately. This is not
winter, or a cold day, is it ? and yet, do you
know, I can feel the cruel icy chill of that
night now as I walk. There was a time
when I had almost forgotten it ; but the
memory of my degraded childhood has been
growing stronger and stronger ever since I
i"4 MITRE COURT.
came to know you. I wonder how it
The listener thought he understood very
well how it happened ; but he remained
" What would have become of me," went
on the girl, " if I had not happened to turn
in under the archway ? And oh ! what a
fright it gave me, to hear the gate shut
before I could creep away again ! I shall
never forget wandering round the courtyard
and peeping out of the cold and darkness
into the old house. I thought no palace
could be more beautiful, and then at last
came that one night — I slipped in, and popped
down into the cellar while the men were busy
taking the last of the office furniture through
the other door ; but I have told you all this
before," she sighed.
"Yes, and I never want to hear a word
about it again. Poor Abby, you must have
spent many a wretched day in the house since
" No — after I knew I should be allowed to
stop I was never unhappy. The life was
heaven, after what I had gone through ; and
LESS THAN KIN.
now I haven't a care in the world except the
one— that I cannot make Mr. Brisco's lot
brighter. If I could only see a different look
in his worn face ! I wish some one would
leave him a fortune — a great fortune. I
wonder how it happens he is so poor ?"
" Many people — most people are poor,"
was the answer.
" Ah ! but not such people as Mr. Brisco.
I cannot tell you how clever he is ! When I
am alone I often fall a-dreaming about him,
and I sometimes dream — do not laugh at me
— that something must have gone all wrong
o o o
in his life when he was as young as you, per-
haps. A man can get a limb broken — why
can't a life be broken too ?"
" How absurd you are, Abby!"
" No, I am not. Now and then, when he
has been walking about at night, I have heard
words I could not help hearing. Frank,"
she broke off to say, " I want to tell you
something I have never told to anyone."
" Do not tell it to me," he said, " if it is
something Mr. Brisco would not care to have
" I shall tell it to you — at least, there are
176 MITRE COURT.
two things instead of one. I must go back
to the time when I went to the old house —
you know what a tiny atom I was ?"
" I was stunted, and so thin you might
have seen through me if you held me up
between you and the light — I was a complete
scarecrow, a bundle of rags and tatters — I had
not clothing enough to keep out the cold —
and it was a piercing, piercing winter."
" Oh! my dear, why will you speak about
those cruel days ?"
" Because it is part of my story. Well, the
first morning Mr. Brisco saw me — for I kept
as much as I could out of his way — I was
shaking both with fright and cold.
" ' What's the matter with you, child ?' he
asked. I tried to answer him, but I could
not, so he went away, and after a little while
returned with an old jacket in his hand,
and said, ' Slip that on ; it will keep you
" ' It is a boy's jacket,' I answered, not
meaning at all to offend him, but just because
I felt surprised.
"'Whether it is or not is no business of
LESS THAN KIN. 177
yours/ he told me, quite in a pet. ' Put it on
and stop shivering.'
He spoke so roughly, and seemed so vexed,
I cried and begged his pardon ; but he went
out of the room and banged the door behind
" And did you wear the jacket ?"
" Yes, till it fell to tatters — it was moth-
eaten when he gave it to me ; but while it
held together it kept me beautifully warm.
Well, that is the first thing. The next is
this : a long time afterwards, when I was
moving some old boxes in his room to get
the dust from behind them, I found that the
lid of one came up in my hand ; it was locked,
but the hinges had given from the wood. In
a moment the room seemed to be filled with
a smell like the scent of dead roses and dried
lavender, and spices and old coffins. I just
peeped in ; I could not resist doing that.
The box was piled full of women's clothes —
dresses and linen, and lace and ribbons. I
wonder who the 'she' was that owned them.
I'd have given anything" to rummage to the
bottom of those things packed maybe before
I was born."
vol. 1. 12
178 MITRE COURT.
" But you did not, dear. I am sure you
" No ; I shut down the lid again, and
pushed the box back in its place. Well, and
more than that, I have often heard Mr.
Brisco at night muttering about some one
called Faith : Faith may have been his sister
or his wife. He does not look, though, as if
he had ever been married ; does he ?"
" How do people look when they are
married ?" asked the young man with a smile,
which was not mirthful.
" I scarcely know; but not like Mr. Brisco,
at any rate."
"Certainly," answered the young man ; "I
never before saw a man who seemed so
utterly lonely and miserable."
" He is indeed most lonely," agreed the
girl sadly. " He keeps me at arm's length ;
yet," she added, brightening up a little, " I
think he speaks to me oftener than he used.
Once or thrice he has asked me what I am
making ; and though he did speak so sharply
to me this afternoon, still on Friday, after
looking me over in his strange way, he said,
' Why, you are growing quite a woman !' "
LESS THAN KIN. 179
" He is right ; so you are. Did he add
anything after that original remark ?"
"Yes." But Miss Weir did not explain
" What was it ? Come, Abby, you need
not be so stiff with me."
" Only " and she stopped and blushed,
even while she laughed.
" Only — that is nothing : finish your sen-
" He said," and her blush deepened,
" ' Don't let the young men make a fool of
"Excellent advice — excellent as terse.
And you, Abby ?"
" I told him I would take very good care
no man, old or young, made a fool of me."
" And what did he answer ?"
" That he believed it w T ould require some
trouble ; but I must remember, the race was
not always to the swift, or the battle to the
strong ; and that, sharp though I was, I might
meet with some one cleverer than myself."
" He did not offer you the benefit of his
experience, should you ever feel you stood in
need of it?"
12 — 2
i8o MITRE COURT.
" No ; that was all he said. He was
crossing the hall when he stopped to speak,
and he went out of the house when he had
" And you sat down to ponder over his
" I did no such thing. I went to Aldgate
to buy this bonnet-shape."
" With which to make a fool of some man,"
suggested her friend.
" Perhaps so — perhaps not," she answered,
with a little toss of her head. " But," she
quickly added, " I won't try to make a fool of
It may be that the minx knew she had
done that already. She must, indeed, have
been dense not to understand the whole of
Frank Scott's heart was given to her. In
his simplicity he believed she could have no
knowledge of the fact. He saw nothing but
trouble which could come of it for many a
long day, and with chivalrous unselfishness
he desired to bear that trouble alone. It was
through no fault of hers, or folly of his, he
chanced to fall in love with the girl. All
their intercourse had been conducted on
LESS THAN KIN. 1S1
principles of the strictest friendship. He
was a lonely waif, she as lonely a stray : he
earned his living hardly, so did she ; he
wanted some one to talk to, that proved to
be her case precisely ; he had no sister, she
no brother. Heaven evidently must have
destined each to be brother, sister, to the
other. Mr. Scott had arrived in London
without knowing a soul in the length or
breadth of that hospitable city ; and the very
evening of his arrival he met with a stranger
who afterwards proved kind as any relative.
Miss Weir had lived all her life in London,
and knowing a great many people she wished
to avoid, she found herself one night, after
numberless odd and unpleasant experiences,
an inmate of a house where she was not
in the least expected or wanted. After
she and Mr. Scott had been acquainted
for a short time, she told the young man
almost everything about herself, and felt
relieved to find he was not so much
shocked by the story as might have been
" You must always look and count upon
me as if I were your brother," he said, and
not to seem proud or disagreeable, Miss
Weir answered that she would.
When this pact was first entered into, the
young lady had, as nearly as she could say,
without possessing any baptismal certificate
or memory of merry birthdays to which to
refer the important question, turned her
sixteenth year, while Mr. Frank Scott was,
he knew 7 , over twenty-one, and in those
days he seemed to Abigail very old indeed.
Each time they met, however — and they
met often — the disparity appeared to lessen.
Miss Weir had been privileged to see a great
deal of life, and, as she herself obligingly
stated, she was not one to go through the
world with her eyes shut. On the one occa-
sion when Abigail repeated Mr. Brisco's re-
mark, the pair had known each other for a
space of nearly twelve months, and yet no
one was aware of the fact.
The girl had sense enough to keep silence
to her many acquaintances ; the young man
did not know any person in whose ear he
would have cared to whisper the secret. At
intervals his conscience pricked him when he
looked at Mr. Jeffley, but he knew if he told
LESS THAN KIN. 183
Jack, Jack would tell his wife, and Mrs.
Jeffrey would tell the parish ; for which ex-
cellent reason he held his peace, and still,
only of course in a friendly way, managed
pretty frequently to see Miss Weir, who was
a law to herself, and whose time, unlike
Mr. Scott's, was pretty nearly at her own
" Frank," she began maliciously, after a
short pause, "you would never try to make a
fool of me, would you ?"
" Why should you ask such a question ?"
he retorted a little sharply. " How could I
if I would ?"
" I do not know," she said ; "only I have
been wondering whether Mr. Brisco had you
in his mind when he spoke ; whether he
could have seen me with you."
" Good heavens ! I hope not," exclaimed
" Why should you hope not ?" she inquired.
" Because — because — I don't suppose he
would be pleased to see you with any one,
more especially with such a poor out-at-
elbows chap as I am."
" You can't be poorer than he is."
1 84 MITRE COURT.
" All the more reason why he would object
to your knowing me."
" I can't see that."
" Well, I can. Here we are in Hounds-
ditch. I must leave you now, Abby, I'm
" Good-bye," she answered.
And for the first time there was a touch of
constraint, almost of sadness, in her tone.
" What is the matter with you, dear ?" he
said, holding her hand.
" Nothing — that is, I don't know. We
had better not stand here. Some one may
pass — and — — "
With a sigh the young man released her
hand, and, waiting only to watch her retreat-
ing figure disappear down St. Mary Axe,
turned his face towards Aldeate.
MRS. CHILDS THEORY.
OMINALLY Mrs. Jeffley was the
mistress of her own house and
actions : certainly she was master,
because Jack counted as nobody ; neverthe-
less, it is a fact that she felt afraid to tell
Mrs. Childs she had not merely made Miss
Weir's acquaintance, but extended patronage
to that unworthy young person.
Mrs. Childs had no right to dictate what,
or what not her employer should do. She
was accustomed to earn her weekly wage in
dirt and outward submission inside Fowkes'
Buildings. She never advanced the absurd
theory that her body, much less her soul, was
her own property. She always appeared fit
and ready to do everything ; she " knew
1 86 MITRE COURT.
better" than to refuse to do anything from
the first hour Mrs. Jeffley and she " came to
terms." She was that lady's slave, drudge,
and echo ; but still, had she been a severe
schoolmistress, and the bustling Maria a
child secretly guilty of some grave dis-
obedience, the latter could not have looked
forward to the hour of disclosure with greater
She knew that hour must come, no matter
with what care and cunning she might try to
retard its striking. She adopted all sorts of
little expedients— such as naming special
hours ; contriving herself to be in the way
when Abigail was expected ; keeping Mrs.
Childs out of sight and hearing till the
danger for the day had passed ; calling her-
self in Botolph Lane ; and on one occasion
even chartering a lad to carry back a parcel
of finished work for her rather than allow
Abigail to bring it.
Spite of all precautions, however, the
acquaintance was not a month old before
Miss Weir and Mrs. Childs met face to face.
They did not speak, of course. Miss Weir
passed into the hall with a calm indifference
MRS. CHILD '5' THEORY. 187
practice had rendered perfect. Mrs. Childs
stepped out from the hall with an air of what
would have been haughty contempt, but for
the misfortune that the sight of " Missy
dressed out in cool muslin and impidence "
marred the effect of what rnig;ht have been a
" You saw Mrs. Childs, I suppose, as you
came in ?" said Mrs. Jeffley to Miss Weir,
when they were both seated in Jack's own
She put the sentence as a question, though
indeed she knew perfectly well the encounter
must have taken place.
" Oh yes — I saw her," answered Abigail.
" Do you not think she looks a great deal
better than she used ?"
" It did not strike me."
Now this, had Miss Weir only known it,
seemed to Mrs. Jeffley a very cruel blow.
She was so accustomed to hear Mrs. Childs
—a woman who could not have been fattened
had anyone cooped her — speak as though,
since her translation from Botolph Lane to
the heaven of Fowkes' Buildings, she could
only be regarded as a female Daniel Lam-
bert, that Abigail's lack of perception as
to the improvement in the worthy woman's
physical condition struck her as singularly
" I assure you," said Mrs. Jeffley with
eager earnestness, " since she came to me
she is quite another person ; she acknow-
ledges that herself."
" You could not have the statement on
better authority," answered Miss Weir
"At any rate, she ought to be strong,"
went on Mrs. Jeffley. (t She lives well
"I have no doubt of that!" agreed the
girl, as though there had been something else
she did doubt.
Mrs. Jeffley, finding that the subject of
her charwoman's charms failed to excite the
keen interest it should have done in Miss
Weir's breast, began to turn over the " little
things," just completed by that clever young
lady, with an appearance of great attention.
"You are a treasure!" she said at last.
" I cannot express how much obliged I feel
MRS. CHILD '5' THEORY. 189
" The obligation is quite as much on my
side," answered Abigail.
" I only wish I could keep you here
always. What a help and comfort you would
be to me !"
" I do not think I should," said the girl
" Why not ?"
" Well, for one thing, because I like my
way, and, unless I ami very much mistaken,
you like your way too."
" But surely our ways need not clash."
" I fancy they would ; at any rate, I know
they might. But as we are never likely
to be together more than we are now,
it is scarcely worth while wasting our
time considering whether they would or
" No one can tell what may happen. It is
the unlikely things that generally happen —
now, isn't it ? Anyhow, I know I would
give a good deal to have just such a bright
active girl as yourself in the house to take
part of the burden off my shoulders."
This was precisely what Mrs. Childs
understood Mrs. Jeffley either happened to
igo MITRE COURT.
be thinking at that moment, or would be
thinking ere she was much older.
No one possessed a quicker eye for, or a
more subtle insight into, the weaknesses of
her employers than Mrs. Childs, and she had
devoted an amount of observation and a
space of time to poor Mrs. Jeffley's failings
that finally rendered her quite at home in the
darkest recesses of that lady's mind.
" She'd have the young slut there,"
thought the drudge, as she sped on the
errand which had called her out, " before
you could wink twice — a-sitting in the best
room in the house, and spying and prying,
and here and there and everywhere all in a
minute, and laughing and saucing with the
men, and driving me to look, at my age, for
some other place to earn my bread, which
the Lord knows is often dry and hard
enough now. And Mrs. Jeffley wouldn't
care a bit ; no, not a pin's point, so long as
she got her own turn served, or thought she
did. I wonder how they got together. It's
that Katzen's doings, I'll be bound. Mrs.
Jeffley is crazy about him — anybody can see
that with half an eye — and he's sweet on
MRS. CHILD 5' THEORY. 191
Missy. He always was, from the day he
saw her dancing across the hall with the lid
of an old tin saucepan, making believe it was
a tambourine. I'd have tambourined her if
she'd been my child. However, Miss Abigail
Weir, if that's her right name — which
for all anybody can tell may be anything —
ain't in Fowkes' Buildings yet ; and it's my
belief she knows on which side her bread's
buttered far too well ever to be. Still, mind
you," finished Mrs. Childs, mentally address-
ing the combined wit, wisdom, and wealth of
the ward of Billingsgate, which she was at
the moment perambulating as swiftly as
though beating the boundaries, " if she took
it into her head to be mistress of that house,
as she is of another in which she has no
more right than my Sophiar, it would be
neither you nor me would hinder her. All
the same, however, I'll do my best to put a
spoke in her wheel."
Half an hour is no very long period of
time. Yet before it had elapsed Mrs. Jeffley
and her charwoman had determined on the
tactics it behoved each of them to pursue.
When Mrs. Childs returned from executing
192 MITRE COURT.
the errand which had necessitated a visit to
Crooked Lane, she found Mrs. Jeffley lying
back in an arm-chair seeming utterly ex-
"Aren't you feeling very well, ma'am?"
asked the Fowkes' Buildings Iris, in accents
of the profoundest sympathy.
" I am so tired — I feel quite knocked up,"
answered Mrs. Jeffley ; and indeed she did
look somewhat pale and worn.
" Ah ! I was afraid it was coming, 'm. I
didn't like to speak, because I know you
never wish no notice took, even if you're
ready to drop, as one may say ; but I thought
to myself, when I looked at you this morning,
' Mistress has been overdoing it aofain.'
Those were the very words passed through
my mind. You ought to be more careful of
yourself — you ought indeed."
" I am as careful of myself as I can,"
answered Mrs. Jeffley a little pettishly.
" What is the use of talking nonsense ?
How is it possible for me to be always con-
sidering my health, with this great house full
of boarders, and Susan going, and not a
living creature to help me but you ?"
JIHS. CHILD S' THEORY. 193
" And I am sure, ma'am, I wish I could
help you more ; though I do my best, it's
little, I'm aware."
"You do a great deal," returned Mrs.
Jeffley, in a tone which somehow implied
less praise to Mrs. Childs than blame to
some one else. " I wonder if that girl has got
any boiling water ?"
"If she hasn't, I can soon make some
" And do you think you could bring me a
cup of tea ?"
" Of course I could, 'm ; but if I might take it
on myself to speak, I wouldn't run down as you
are — no, I wouldn't take any tea at this time of
the day. Nobody relishes a cup more than I
do, especially when good, as it always is here ;
but it's not fit for one who has so much on
her mind as you, 'm. It lies dreadful heavy
round the heart, and you should remember
you're up and down stairs constant. There
was my first cousin, Martha was her name.
She died of dropsy, and her one moan was
for tea. ' Do — do make me some, Jane,' she
used to cry, quite pitiful. The doctor said it
hurried her off."
vol. 1. i-x
194 MITRE COURT.
" Well, I have not got dropsy, or anything
else the matter with me, except worry," re-
torted Mrs. Jeffley, raising herself into an
upright posture ; " and that I shall have till I
die," she added, with a sort of desperation,
flinging herself back again against the chair.
Mrs. Childs did not answer ; she only
shook her head sadly, with a gesture it was a
pity none stood near to see. In our midst
there live most meritorious actresses who
never have been, and never will be, seen on
any other than the domestic stage.
Had all belonging to her been that moment
swept into eternity, Mrs. Childs could not
have left the room with a sadder mien or
more lingering step. There must have lain
perdu in her nature somewhat of the same
spirit that prompted the mimic Othello to
black himself all over ; for though neither
Mrs. Jeffley, nor anyone who cared twopence
about Mrs. Jeffley, was there to see, she
maintained the same mournfulness of tone
and demeanour while making the tea and
cutting some thin slices of ham.
" You mustn't be angry with me, ma'am,"
she said, in a sort of would-be-cheerful-if-I-
MRS. CHILDS' THEORY. 195
could, but still most sorrowful voice, setting
down the nicely laid out tray at Mrs. Jeffrey's
elbow, " for taking the liberty of bringing
you up a morsel of relish. I can't abear to
see you going on day after day, thinking
always about other people and never about
yourself. And the pity is, there's nobody to
think about you, 'm. I only wish I'd
nothing to do but that. What you want is
somebody to wait on you hand and foot —
somebody better learned than me, that could
do in a big way what I strive to do for you
in a little. Now do, ma'am, try to pick a bit.
There's not half an ounce of ham — and a
beautiful ham it is — you always do buy the
best of everything — but I took particular
pains to cut it what Captain Hassell calls
Vauxhall fashion. I couldn't make you any
toast, the fire was so low."
" That vretched girl ! she 7ieverhas a fire,"
murmured Mrs. Jeffley.
" May I pour out your tea — or will you
pour for yourself, 'm ? I hope you'll find it
to your mind. I'll leave you to sugar and
milk for yourself. Now do — do, ma'am,
force yourself to eat a bit of the ham — it's cut
T -J r%
196 MITRE COURT.
rrost delicate. You'll be laid up if you go
on neglecting yourself as you are doing- — -I
know you will. I've said so to Sophiar times
Upon Mrs. Jeffley the name of Sophia
always acted like a red rag on a turkey-
For that young person she had the natural
if unchristian dislike well-formed, healthy,
good-looking human beings generally enter-
tain for those unfortunates against whom
nature seems to have entertained a grudge.
Instantly she turned to the table, and,
after adding a goodly supply of milk, took a
long draught of tea — just such a draught as
Mrs. Childs, after the heat and burden of a
long day's work, liked to take herself.
" That is good !" she said, laying down
the empty cup. " I feel better already."
Hearing which delightful news her hench-
woman poured out another supply, and again
obtruded the ham on Mrs. Jeffley's atten-
" I may just as well have my lunch now as
later," compromised the lady. " I shan't
touch another morsel to-day."
MR S. CHILD 5? THEORY. 197
" Don't say that, 'm/' entreated Mrs.
" But I must say it, for it's the truth. I
am getting completely knocked up. I'm
regularly worn out."
Mrs. Childs sighed audibly, and proffered
some bread and butter.
There are times when silence seems even
more golden than it does at others.
Mrs. Jeffley accepted two slices of bread
and butter, which she folded face to face — this
is a seductive way of utilizing those articles.
"Mrs. Childs," she said.
" Yes, ma'am," answered Mrs. Childs, all
" I have quite made up my mind "
Mrs. Childs waited warily to hear what
Mrs. Jeffley's mind had in contemplation.
" To go to Margate for a fortnight."
" I don't blame you, ma'am," cried Mrs.
" I feel I am getting worn out here.
What with one and what with another, there
is no rest for the sole of my foot. The dove
Noah sent out to find out the state of the
weather for him had not a harder time of it
than I have, and if I was dead and buried
my husband wouldn't care."
Once more the misery of it all proved too
much for Mrs. Childs, who, again shaking
her head, murmured :
" Ah ! he'd know the difference."
" But," resumed Mrs. Jeffley, " I have no
intention of dying yet awhile, or being buried
lor anybody ; so to Margate I'll go. They
say it's wonderfully reviving. Mr. Jeffley
and any of the lodgers that like can come
down Saturday to Monday — -the trip's cheap
enough ; those that don't like must do the
other thing. I'll kill myself for nobody."
" You'd never get thanked for it," said
Mrs. Childs pensively. " And I do hope
and trust you'll stick to going, ma'am, though
whatever we shall do without you I am sure
I don't know."
" You must rub along somehow," answered
Mrs. Jeffley. " I dare say I shall be as glad
to be back as you to see me. I won't take
much down ; just a morning-gown or two,
and a Sunday dress ; and the children must
be made tidy, for of course they'll go with
me ; but I can manage that. By-the-bye,
MR S. CHILD 5' THEORY. 199
you were surprised, I have no doubt, to meet
Miss Weir coming here this morning ?"
"Well, 'm," confessed Mrs. Childs, "to
speak the truth, which is a thing, poor
though I may be, ma'am, I always endeavour
to do, and always should feel bound to do to
a lady like yourself — as is a lady, hoping
you won't be offended by my freedom, and
meaning no offence — I did feel for a moment
took aback when I met Miss Abby when I
was running out to fetch what Captain Hasselt
wanted, and hope he found to his satisfaction ;
but once I remembered myself — I called to
mind that you had asked me about her on
Whit Monday night, and that I said to the
child as we were sitting over our morsel of
supper, ' Missus never does anything with-
out a reason, and a good one, and you
may depend it was not for nothing she
wanted me to tell her some little about Miss
" She is doing some needlework for
"And beautifully she does it."
" I always was given to understand no
manner of fault could be found with her as
far as cleverness goes," said Mrs. Childs,
" And so quick, too," supplemented Mrs.
Jeffley. " I never saw anyone else get over
what she has to do so fast."
"Oh! she's fast enough, I'm aware, 'm.
Nobody can deny that."
" Now, I wonder," said Mrs. Jeffley,
helping herself to another piece of ham —
(" 111 or well, she's getting through the whole
of it," considered Sophia's aunt) — " what
makes you so set against the girl. She does
not say anything bitter against you."
" And very good reason too," retorted
Mrs. Childs, venom for the moment over-
mastering those manners on which she prided
herself, and for which no doubt, at a remote
period of her life, some one had paid two-
pence a week. " She couldn't say anything
against me — that is, if she spoke the
" I tell you she never has," said Mrs.
" I am very pleased to hear so, I'm sure,
'm. Though it is no more than justice, I
MRS. CHILD S' THEORY.
did not expect as much from Miss Abigail
Weir, if that's what Mr. Katzen talks about
being her nom digger."
" Mrs. Jeffley opened her mouth to ask
Mrs. Childs what she meant, but, on reflec-
tion, shut it aeain. There ensued a moment's
silence while she sat — bread, butter, ham, and
tea all unheeded — looking straight before her
" I wonder what her mind's at work on
now," thought Mrs. Childs ; but she too re-
frained from speech.
" Nobody knows," began Mrs. Jeffley at
last, " the relief it is to me to have got hold
of such a girl. She is just the person I have
been wanting for years. When I think of
the money I've wasted, as one may say, over
people who could not put in a stitch decently,
I can scarcely contain myself."
Mrs. Childs, for the third time, shook
her head mournfully. The incompetency ot
sempstresses, and the consequent trials of
a virtuous matron, were themes on which
she felt it scarcely safe to enter, more
especially as she herself had recommended
a certain Mrs. Lacey, who had proved a
disastrous failure, for the post of wardrobe-
keeper to the juvenile Jeffreys.
" Now this Miss Weir," went on Mrs.
Jeffrey, brightening up a little in consequence
of finding she had made a point and could
improve upon it, " takes all trouble off my
hands. She buys better than I can. She is
able to plan and cut out. She is not above
altering or contriving, and she has the things
here back almost before anyone would have
thought she had time to baste the seams. I
only wish I had come across her years ago."
" I'm sure I wish you had, ma'am."
" She is likely to be a real comfort to me."
" Any thing or person that's a comfort to
you must be a pleasure to me, 'm," said
Mrs. Childs, with cringing diplomacy.
"So you need not be surprised if you see
her often here now."
" I won't, m."
" For I intend to give her a great deal of
" Of course, 'm, you will do just as you
please about that," said Mrs. Childs, who
was bursting with rage.
"You may be very sure I shall, and I
MR S. CHILD 5' THEORY
cannot see why you should put yourself out
because I have at last got acquainted with
" Me put myself out, 'm!" returned Mrs.
Childs, in a tone of well-assumed amazement
and reproach. " I hope I know my place,
and have behaved according. I have always
strove to do my duty ; and though you may
sometimes have thought me bold, 'm, you
know I was well intentioned, and only spoke
because I could not abear to see you fretting
and harrying yourself worse than any servant
on wages and board-wages, and getting no
thanks back. That's why I am glad, indeed,
you have come across Miss Weir, 'm, as
you think she's likely to suit you, ma'am ;
and all I hope is, you may never have cause
to repent your goodness to her."
" Repent ! What should I repent for ?"
" I don't know, 'm, I'm sure. It's not for
a desolate widow — slaving early and late to
keep a bed under her, and without a friend
in the world, so to speak, 'm, but yourself —
to put herself in the place of a lady who is
married and has little dears of children and a
house choke-full of beautiful furniture and
204 MITRE COURT.
good paying lodgers ; but I can't help saying,
if — poor though I am — I had a husband, or
lodger, or children, Miss Abigail shouldn't
have a chance of speaking a word, good or
bad, to one of them."
"Whatever is wronof with the q;iy\ ?" asked
Mrs. Jeffley testily. "She is always neat,
and pleasant, and well-spoken, and in-
dustrious. She is not much to look at, to be-
sure — — "
" That she is not," agreed Mrs. Childs.
" But handsome is as handsome does, you
know ; and I really can't help thinking if she
is not pretty she is good."
"You ought to know best, 'm," answered
"That is just what I am not so sure of.
As you remark, I have a husband and
children and lodgers ; and if there is any-
thing against Miss Weir, I ought to know it."
Mrs. Childs stood resolutely silent, with
eyes cast down and lips compressed.
" Come," urged Mrs. Jeffley persuasively,
"what is it? You need not be afraid of
speaking to me. I am as safe as the grave."
Perhaps Mrs. Childs had her doubts about
MRS. CHILD S' THEORY
the safety of that last resort. At all events,
she refused to explain.
"Excuse me, 'm," she replied, "but I'd
rather say no more. There are things in
most houses — all houses aren't open and
aboveboard like yours — that shouldn't be
spoke about. Whether a person is taken
into confidence or kept at arm's length, that
person, unless she is blind, deaf, and a born
idiot, can't help seeing, hearing, and trying
to fit into place — but it is her business to say
nothing, once the door is shut behind her ;
and nobody living could repeat any remark
I ever made about Mr. Brisco, or Mr.
Brisco's place, or the child Mr. Brisco took
in, I'd care came round to him to-mor-
Mrs. Jeffley sat perplexed. Mrs. Childs'
assertion puzzled her as much as that trick
about the lemonade and the queen-cake
puzzled the cheated old shopkeeper :
" Give me a bottle of lemonade," said the
When his wish was complied with, he
altered his mind. " No, I will not have the
lemonade, but this queen-cake."
2o6 MITRE COURT.
Having eaten the queen-cake, he prepared
"Twopence, if you please, sir."
" The queen-cake."
"But I gave you the lemonade for the
" But you did not pay for the lemonade!"
" No, I had not the lemonade," and left
the woman unpaid — feeling she had lost
twopence somehow, though she could not tell
in what way.
In like manner, it would have required a
clear head to disentangle Mr. Brisco from
Miss Weir in Mrs. Childs' muddled sentences,
and, after that was effected, to state the
precise sin charged — beyond general pertness
• — by that worthy woman to Miss Abigail's
account. In some ways Mrs. Jeffley's was
anything but a clear head. There were
matters about which a child could have led
her astray. Utterly guileless herself, each
fresh revelation of want of straightforwardness
in others came upon her with a terrible
The possibility of there being two sides to
MRS, CHILD S' THEORY. 207
a question or a human being never occurred
to her. She always believed the first story
she heard, let it be told by whom it might
(her husband excepted). She invariably sided
with the plaintiff, and even if forced ultimately
to recognise that the defendant's tale might
be true, recognised such fact under protest.
Under Mrs. Childs' manipulation such a
woman was as clay in the hands of the potter.
The very vagueness of the sin ascribed to
Miss Weir added to its awfulness ; the lurid
light merely thrown on what might have been
going on in the old house, and then in-
stantly withdrawn, heightened the horror and
picturesqueness of Mrs. Childs' suggested
drama ! On the other hand, Miss Weir, even
if she were the Evil One in female form, did
her work well and cheaply.
What possible contamination could she
bring into Fowkes' Buildings? Certainly
then and there Mrs. Jeffley abandoned the
plan she had half formed of asking Abigail to
go to Margate with her, that they might get
to know each other better ; still she could
not — she felt it impossible — altogether sever
connection with a girl able to shop, cut out,
208 MITRE COURT.
and sew, and " take a burden off her
" But, Mrs. Childs," she remonstrated, after
she had allowed all these considerations to
tumble for a while through her brain, " it
is years since you worked for Mr. Brisco, and
whatever the child may have been then, she
seems to have no bad ways now. Of course
I am not in a position to tell, but it does
seem to me, from all I have heard, Mr.
Brisco would never have kept her all this
time had she not forsaken whatever evil
courses she may have got into long ago.
Besides, what chance had she then, poor
child, taught no better ? Now she is a credit
to the Q-ood education those ladies gave her.
Where would you meet a quieter girl in
the streets, or a nicer-mannered one in-
" I have nothing to say against what Miss
Weir seems to be, 'm, but I know what I
know ; and having warned you, 'm, I've done
my duty, and feel I'll sleep all the peacefuller
to-night for having so done. After the
kindness you have shown to me — for which I
feel humbly grateful — I could not say less,
MRS. CHILD S' THEORY. 209
but I'd rather, if you please, say no more ;
" Only " repeated Mrs. Jeffley. " You
know it's safe with me, whatever it may
" I know that, 'm, but still — however, all I
was going to remark had to do with nobody
but Mr. Brisco himself. Perhaps there is
not so much credit in his keeping her as you
think, to either of them."
"Good gracious, Mrs. Childs, what are
you insinuating ?"
" It's not me, it's others : tongues can't be
chained nor bound, neither tied, and there
has been a deal of talk, first and last, about
the 'young lady' in Botolph Lane and her
' benefactor.' Put it to yourself, ma'am.
Now shouldn't you think it strange if some
people who were so badly off they couldn't
afford a bottle of stout, and so hard they
wouldn't have thrown a starved dog a mouldy
crust, turned all in a minute, and without
rhyme or reason took in a ragged child, her
eyes starting out of her head with hunger —
sick and famished — and that, when she'd
have been well seen to by the parish ?"
vol. 1. 14
" I have always thought it odd," said
Mrs. Jeffley, her eyes wide with eagerness as
Abigail's had once been with hunger, " but I
don't see "
" No, 'm, I know you don't — how should
you ? but there were those as said at the time,
strange as it was, perhaps there were good
reasons. If some people had been paying
money for the child, and couldn't or wouldn't
keep up the weekly instalments — and those
who had her chose that way of shaming
them — mightn't those people have found it
cheaper and quieter to keep the child in the
old house than to let her go, and have a fuss
made, and so get into further trouble ? I am
putting it to you, 'm, as it was put to me by
a party used to the law courts and acquainted
with all sorts of wickedness. Don't you
think if all the ins and outs were made plain,
and the whole matter revealed as it will be
at the Great Day of Judgment, we might not
think it so strange after all ?"
" I would rather not think," answered Mrs.
Jeffley, greatly shocked. " Take away the
tray, please, Mrs. Childs. I couldn't touch
anything more ; you have made me feel quite
MRS. CHILD S' THEORY.
faint. I wish I had heard nothing about the
matter at all."
"Well, 'm, you would have it, you know,"
returned Mrs. Childs, in a tone of chastened
superiority. ''With my goodwill you would
never have heard a word of the story. I am
truly sorry to have upset you, but it was
not my doing. It would be my heartfelt
endeavour to say no ill of anybody."
And all the while it never occurred to Mrs.
Jeffley that no mention had been made of the
nature of the particular crime imputed to
Abigail Weir. Talk of songs without words !
Pooh ! Rather talk of slanders without
AD Heaven been pleased to place
a Mrs. Childs a little higher in the
Q&M) social scale, it is not improbable
that she might have compassed distinction as
Two qualifications at least she possessed,
not always to be found in those who now-
adays profess to supply a public want — an
imagination ardent yet pliable, which enabled
her to describe events which never occurred,
and a calm power of vivid description that
rendered scepticism as regarded her narra-
tives difficult. The implied secret in Mr.
Brisco's past, as well as the reported conver
sations concerning it, were wholly and totally
the unassisted productions of her own fertile
G. BRISCO. 213
brain. With her fancy stimulated by the
sight of Miss Weir, before she reached
Crooked Lane she had rough-hewn the false-
hood ; ere St. Mary-at-Hill was passed on
her way back, she had moulded and shaped
the ugly scandal into likely form ; and the
time consumed in covering the ground
between St. Dunstan's Hill and Fowkes'
Buildings sufficed to give her own thoughts
words, uttered by the supposititious lips ot
some fanciful individual.
" I make no doubt it's all true enough,"
she said, in that silent soliloquy she so much
affected. " Who is Mr. Brisco more than
anybody else, that Missy shouldn't be his
child ? If she is not, she ought to be. It is
more fit he should be her father than any
Which was all really very hard on Mr.
Brisco, a man not merely innocent of the
charge implied against him, but a man
against whom it seemed inconceivable such a
charge could have been implied.
For indeed the world of his mind had
never been large enough to contain more
than two women — his mother and his wife,
214 MITRE COURT.
and both were dead. Even in thought
he had always been loyal. He would not
have turned his head to look at Venus, had
that probably overrated beauty taken a fancy
to walk among the stockbrokers in Throg-
morton Street about one o'clock on a busy
day ; and as for the rest of the female
mythology, his virtue was of that Spartan
character which could contemplate the spec-
tacle of mature goddesses whipped at the
cart's tail, and any number of frisky young
nymphs packed off to Bridewell, with equa-
A lonely man, a lonely self-contained
brooding man, solitary as it is only possible
to be in the heart of a great city. There
anyone who lists may fashion a hermitage for
himself. No need nowadays to fly human
haunts, yearn for a lodge in some vast wilder-
ness, a forest hut, a rocky cave, mossy banks,
purling streams, and such roots and herbs as
may be indigenous to the particular locality
selected for penance or meditation.
The meanest house in London will serve
all purposes of seclusion just as well. If any
anchorite, or sybarite either for that matter,
G. BRISCO. 215
choose to close his door against the world, he
may sit at ease and hear the great billows of
struggling humanity rolling majestically, cry-
ing pitifully, beating madly upon the pave-
ments, sobbing through the night ; but not
one wave shall creep into the dwelling of him
who has voluntarily cast off his kind. Utter
isolation can, amongst many other luxuries,
be commanded by one who pays his way.
He will not be meddled with. He may buy
his roots and herbs in the nearest market.
He may live more miserably than any hermit
of old in his cell ; surrounded by a multitude,
he can hold himself aloof from contact with
them. It is competent for him to exist for
himself, and absolutely by himself.
The country affords no such freedom as
the city ; a wide desert — no solitude equal to
streets and lanes crowded with busy, anxious
people. Even should the hermit's beard be
long, and his flowing locks grey, his appear-
ance strange, and his gestures uncouth,
passers-by will soon cease to wonder, and the
very arabs turning wheels in the roadway, or
sparring with each other in the gutter, refuse
to interrupt their employment for the sake of
216 MITRE COURT.
shouting, " Here's another guy !" after one
whose features and figure have become
It had chanced thus with Mr. Brisco.
When first he entered into full possession of
the old house in Botolph Lane, where pre-
viously he had merely rented an office,
speculation was rife concerning him ; but
that had been all done with for many a year.
Curiosity was over-past ; chilled and mor-
tified, it decided Mr. Brisco must be sour
grapes, and ceased to jump for the bunches.
The nine days' wonder induced by the*
advent of little Miss Weir — " a mere bag
of bones and bundle of rags " — had for
years been spent ; likewise the astonishment
caused by Mrs. Childs' discharge or defec-
tion (the neighbouring population took sides
as to which word was correct) was almost
forgotten. That portion of the ward of
Billingsgate bounded on the east by Dun-
stan's Hill and west by Pudding Lane
exercised its minds no more about the old
house and its tenants. Miss Weir was as
nice a tenant as house need have ; bright
and busy, she pursued her cheerful way, ever
G. BRISCO. 217
willing to help, ever ready to rejoice with
those who were glad, and mourn with those
" She's like a glint of sunshine," said one,
athwart whose path sunshine fell rarely.
" I'll never forget her when my little Bess
died," murmured his neighbour.
She did what she could ; and, after all,
what can a queen do more ? In great con-
servatories we see stately camellias and the
royal amaryllis and fragrant stephanotis and
exotics trembling with the very excess of
their fragile beauty, and then there stands
on the sill of some narrow window a plant,
modest, and to outward view of little worth,
which yet fills the poor room with perfume,
and talks in an inarticulate language, intel-
ligible enough to those hearts for which the
message is sent, of something even in this
world exceedingly to be desired : hope and
content amid the most lowly surroundings ;
peace to be compassed, spite of the madden-
ing turmoil of constant work and hard en-
To Abigail Weir it was not given to carry
any message to those of high estate. The
old house in Botolph Lane was the grandest
mansion she had, in her short life, entered ;
the drawing-room at the Rectory the only
even ordinarily well-furnished apartment her
young eyes ever beheld. But what of
In a king's palace she had not been one
half so useful ; every energy she possessed
was always on active service. She had no
leisure to repine. If evil moods fell upon her
■ — -and what sort of nature can it be the black
dog never visits ?■ — she found time too short
to permit of fondling the mischievous guest.
She did what she could, and appreciative
neighbours recognised the fact, and silently
applauded a courage which never seemed to
falter, industry that was well-nigh tireless.
Had she been born in the parish, no one
could have felt more inclined to make her
free of it than did all the old inhabitants
sprinkled up and down the lanes. As for
Mr. Brisco, the mystery, if there were a
mystery connected with him, had long ceased
to exercise any mind, or strain the capacities
of any brain. When Mr. Katzen was ap-
pointed consul for New Andalusia. Botolph
G. BRISCO. 219
Lane and Love Lane and St. Mary-at-Hill
knew as little about that gentleman's land-
lord as it had done years previously.
And not a soul in the length and breadth
of London appeared to be much wiser.
He might have dropped from the clouds,
for any trace his footprints had left on earth.
He might have been his own father, and
grandfather, sister, brother, uncle, and aunt,
for all mention he ever made of relatives,
dead or living. Where he came from, what
was his past history, how it chanced he lived
poor, stranded, and friendless, were questions
many persons had once tried to ask, but which
they asked no longer.
Between himself and the world there stood
a wall no one could even peep over. Not a
glimpse was to be obtained of the private
grounds in which he walked mentally ; ex-
cept Abigail Weir and her friend Frank
Scott, not a creature suspected the fact of
those frequent night-wanderings, when, hand
in hand with the dead, he roamed through
the ghostly silence, invoking shadows from
out his past, and seeking communion with
fancies that had vanished with youth, and
with those whose bodies had for long years
known no companionship save darkness and
the earthworm. Constantly we see this
tendency to revert to some former state of
unreal and ideal happiness in lieu of welcom-
ing the sunshine or the shadow of each day
God gives us as it comes ; to lay wreaths on
the wet ground to gladden eyes now closed
on earth, though gazing, so we humbly hope,
on the fadeless flowers of Paradise, instead of
planting in the midst of our most desperate
affliction slips of hope and roots of endeavour,
which even in this world may bloom and
bear fruit, that some one at least, if not we
ourselves, worn and weary, hungry and athirst,
may stop and gather.
All his life Mr. Brisco had been unfor-
tunate. Over his cradle two evil spirits kept
guard — poverty and pride ; poverty that was
grim, pride that would have been ludicrous
but for the cruel penury amid which it con-
trived to flourish.
Brisco senior, an over-worked and badly
paid medical practitioner in a remote country
district, was the younger son of a younger
son, who in his turn was the descendant of
G. BRISCO. 221
Heaven only knows how many younger sons,
one of whom may, at some extraordinarily
remote period, have been actually the younger
son of the head of a great family.
The Heralds' College might have disen-
tangled without snapping this long-drawn
chain of asserted relationship ; but the great
family, many a generation before Mr. Brisco
was born, had ceased to see it. To them,
indeed, it was actually invisible ; and as there
were scattered about the world hundreds of
heirs concerning whose bona fides there could
be no question, it seemed in the highest
degree improbable the rusted links could
ever again become distinct.
To Doctor Brisco, however, his connection
with the great family was plain as a pikestaff.
Unhappily, pedigree is one of those objects
from which the further a man stands the
more clear becomes his vision. Sons, elder
sons of elder sons, may sometimes forget
the traditions of their house, and the position
conferred upon them by birth, but the far-off
relation never omits to bore his acquaintances
with the tale of those he can claim " Sib"
with ; ay, even if it be over his cups in a
222 MITRE COURT.
village "pub" where there is a long score
against him, he will give himself airs on the
strength of some kinsman or kinswoman
dead and gone, long turned to dust, who
made a mesalliance of which he is the notable
Doctor Brisco, as he was called, though
indeed he had no right to such a prefix, did
not go about the world buttonholing every-
one he met, while he confided to them the
secret that he came of those whose names
were writ in history ; nevertheless it was by
some means generally understood if he "had
his rights" he would be rolling alono- the
high road in a carriage, instead of tramping
through life's muddy lanes on foot.
In his shabby surgery there hung a
genealogical tree, root, trunk and branches
of which were there for all who listed to look
at, and marvel concerning ; indeed, it was a
fearful and wonderful work of art. Likewise
in the best parlour there was to be beheld,
effectively framed, the coat-of-arms and crest
of the Briscos, who had intermarried with
the Granthams, a.d. 1578. Two Miss
Granthams, co-heiresses, allied themselves
with two Briscos. The one Brisco, being
wise, did well in consequence of his wife's
money ; the other, being foolish, squandered
the other sister's share in whatever amuse-
ments were going on about that period of
Further, those same dreary walls were
adorned with plates — extracted probably
from some forgotten annual — representing
the lordly seats of the two remarkable
families ; in both cases plenty of park,
plenty of deer, of trees, masonry, shrubs- —
everything as it should be about such abodes.
The Doctor, though no humbug, was
wont to sigh when anyone surveyed these
At such times he honestly felt as though
the scenes depicted represented the happy
playgrounds of his youth. In those great
houses not a soul knew that such a person as
himself existed ; but he never forgot his
Did they marry, did they die, did they
repair abroad ; did they meet with an
accident at home, get into any trouble,
matrimonial or otherwise ; return to their
224 MITRE COURT.
ancestral halls — Doctor Brisco was mentally
To follow their movements, to read of
their alliances, to identify himself with their
joys and sorrows, disappointments and suc-
cesses, was almost the sole amusement of a
dull, laborious life.
It was like a child's game of make-believe.
He knew it meant nothing, could never
mean anything to him, yet out of the doings
of his relatives he erected air-castles by the
hundred, and was wont to say, " Ah ! if good
never comes to me, it will some day to my
His greatest trouble really seemed to be
that not one of his sons took after him, unless
indeed Grantham. When quite an infant
Grantham had been wont to regard the
family tree with fixed attention, and as he
grew up he developed a remarkable pre-
dilection for reading about the great deeds
achieved in times past by the men of his
" You'll have to make money, boy," said
his father, "and then they will hold out the
right hand of fellowship fast enough. Make
G. BRISCO. 225
money — that is the only way the chivalry of
the nineteenth century can show itself. In
former days, when a young fellow wanted to
get to the front, he had but to perform some
deed of valour ; now he must work twice as
hard for years to fill his pockets. When he
has filled them, the ball is at his feet. It is
of no use being a Grantham, or a Brisco, or
anybody else, if you have not money to keep
up the name. Look at me ; there is not a
man in the parish as well born as I am ; and
yet every new-fledged cotton lord, even if he
drops his h's and eats with his knife, thinks
he patronizes Ralph Brisco when he asks me
to dinner. Patronizes me! Ha! ha! ha!
it is really too good !" Yet the poor fellow-
did not seem to find the idea really pro-
vocative of mirth, for his lauQfh lacked the
true rinof a laueh should have. On the
contrary, it savoured of mortification.
As for Grantham, at a very early age
bitterness had entered into his soul and
remained there. At school, at play, in his
father's house, and out of it, the curse ol
poverty lay heavy upon him. There are
burdens which do not grow lighter with the
vol. 1. 1 s
126 MITRE COURT.
lapse of time, and shortness of money is one
of them. No estates, no legacies, no gifts,
came to that narrow village home. The
world went on, and it was hard to make a
sovereign go as far as formerly. Neither the
Briscos nor the Granthams evinced any wild
desire to take their relations to the family
bosom. They married, they were given in
marriage, they died and were buried ; at last,
it was all the same to their far-away kinsman.
After long years of as gallant a fight as ever
one of his ancestors made in battle on sea or
land, the poor Doctor was stricken with
paralysis, and he might have died in the
workhouse, or starved, had it not been for
Grantham, who was then in London seeking
The elder brothers were dead or vanished
— there never were any sisters ; so on
Grantham devolved the duty of doing what
he could for both his parents.
In a humble way he managed to support
them ; but when at last he stood sole mourner
beside his mother's grave, the fortune he had
come to London to seek seemed as far off as
G. BRISCO. 227
He had the sense to lock away his
genealogical tree, and hold his tongue con-
cerning relations stranger to him than any
strangers ; but a man cannot lock up memory
or ensure forgetfulness even by maintaining
silence, and that which had grown with the
young man's growth, and was as truly a part
of him as his keen cold blue eyes, was not
likely to be exorcised by a long course of
loneliness and abstinence from every innocent
It was ere he had scarce recovered from
the blow inflicted by his mother's death that
he met the love of his life.
" And a bad day as ever broke it was for
her, poor darling," often declared the poor
darling's nurse, as garrulous as she who
taught Juliet to walk. " Little I thought,
when I first saw him come into the house,
where master had been so silly as to ask
him to dine, what was to come of it. If I
had, I'd have soaped the stairs, or put poison
in his wine. There's no accounting for
tastes — he wouldn't have been mine."
There is nothing more easy than to be
wise after the event. Had anvone known
228 MITRE COURT.
what was going to happen, probably Miss
Daynes might never have become Mrs.
Brisco. Certainly Grantham Brisco would
have hesitated about asking her to marry
Old Mr. Daynes was a gentleman living
not merely up to the edge of his income, but
beyond. He had sons who looked for
allowances from him ; daughters married to
professional men struggling to keep up a
position ; daughters unmarried he could not
afford to portion. Apparently he had a good
business, but it was rotten through and
through — so rotten indeed that if Mr. Daynes
had not died in the very nick of time, he
must have been bankrupt.
Within a fortnight after the funeral, and
before the whole of the mourning gar-
ments ordered had been sent home, the
Daynes' card-house tumbled down about their
The creditors took the life insurances —
upon which advances had been made — the
furniture, the brougham, the horse and har-
ness, the lease of the desirable suburban
villa — see advertisements of the period — the
G. BRISCO. 229
book-debts — everything, in fact, that was left
Mrs. Daynes went to live with one of her
married daughters, who did not in the least
want her ; the sons had to shift as they
could. One of the Miss Daynes took a
situation as governess ; the other was glad
to meet with an old lady who wanted a com-
"It is a comfort Faith is so well provided
for," said Mrs. Daynes.
" I suppose you are not aware," observed
the son-in-law she addressed, who was a
solicitor, " that Brisco had gone security for
your husband to an amount that will keep
him with his nose to the grindstone for many
a long day ?"
It was true. Dear Faith's husband had
" signed his name as a mere matter of form ;"
and if ever a man found cause to curse the
day when he learned to write, that man was
What was the poverty of his youth in
comparison with the poverty of his man-
hood ? What is any poverty in the country
like the poverty of town ?
230 MITRE COURT.
He had always lived frugally — sometimes
barely — but now he felt bound to stint him-
self even of the necessaries of life. Left to
the guidance of her own soft impulses, his
wife would have been a sweet, submissive,
useless creature. Sweet she was always,
even in her tears — a woman to caress, and
kiss, and keep far as possible from all know-
ledge of hardship. Not even the old nurse,
who loved her beyond all things except her-
self, could spoil a nature naturally unselfish ;
but in such a crisis of a man's life as that at
which Grantham Brisco had arrived, he needs
something more than sweetness — he wants
He was strong enough morally and
physically to eat no food save a penny roll
during business hours, and return to a meal
consisting of weak tea, a stale egg, bread
and cheap butter, at night ; but on such fare
he might be excused for sometimes cavilling
over the weekly bills, and, when his own per-
sonal expenditure is well-nigh nil, grumbling
because the household accounts seemed to
Abroad he had no ease ; at home he had
G. £ J? I SCO.
no peace. That accursed security dragged
away his very life's blood, and yet he could
not bear to tell his wife it had been incurred
for her father. He dreaded to go home
after a day's hard work, because upon the
threshold he was met by something which
seemed to him even more accursed than the
paper to which he had affixed his name —
the old nurse upon whose lips there was
always a demand for money, and who finally
went so far as to say " he ought to be
ashamed of himself."
In the hands of women a man is absolutely
helpless — unless he is a bad man, in which
case the tables are turned.
Mr. Brisco was not a bad man. His fault,
if it could be accounted a fault, was absolute
honesty. He had incurred a liability, and he
meant to pay it.
Bankruptcy would of course have left him
almost free to commence the world again ;
but though he had locked the family pedi-
gree away, it was there for all that.
He could not find it in his heart to drag
two ancient names — Grantham, Brisco —
through the mire of Basinghall Street for
any Daynes in England ; bravely, therefore,
he set out to pay the liability for which he
It was hard, he felt — very, very hard.
Often he cursed the memory of soft-talking,
soft-living Mr. Daynes ; but cursing could
not pay off the debt incurred.
Mr. Daynes' creditors were not indulgent.
They would have been lenient to that plea-
sant gentleman had he lived ; but Mr. Brisco
was a horse of quite another colour — -a horse
willing to work, willing to slave. Such a
horse is always safe to lash, so they lashed
In life there must be ever those who play
and those who work; Mr. Brisco was amongst
those forced to work.
All the best years of his life were spent in
a struggle with poverty, worse by far than
his father had ever waged : not an instinct
of his nature but was crushed down by the
iron heel of necessity. Morning, noon, and
night he worked to pay off that Shylock
bond contracted for no extravagance or ne-
cessity of his own. How he worked no one
save God and himself might ever know.
G. BRISCO. 233
The humiliations he went through, the
personal privations he accepted, the heat
and burden of that awful day, must be
written somewhere, though not on earth.
Doggedly men go through this sort of
punishment constantly, Fate flogging them
till they almost cease to feel the whip.
Eventually Mr. Brisco ceased to feel it —
he grew accustomed to being trampled on ;
lawyers' letters were no more a terror. " If
you live long enough in hell," he said one
day to a solicitor, "you must get acclimatized
to brimstone and sulphur."
Through all this time he had been going
down — down — down — till the Daynes, who
never paid anybody, and in some extra-
ordinary way shuffled off all responsibilities,
felt it impossible any longer to recognise
poor Faith's husband.
When Mrs. Brisco's child was born, she
and Mr. Brisco had moved so far east as
Lower Clapton ; after that their address was
Nobody, however, called at Homerton—
no one, indeed, knew where Homerton was,
for which reason the young wife and her
234 MITRE COURT.
little boy were left alone to comfort each
After a while the young wife fell ill, not
with any pronounced disease, but of a sort
of " languor."
Madly the husband did for her all that
lay in his power. He ran in debt to trades-
people ; he borrowed money ; he stinted him-
self more and more ; he worked harder than
" My darling," he said one morning, " I
am in such hopes of getting a paying agency.
This evening I trust I shall have oood news
For answer, she meekly lifted a white face
for him to kiss.
" Dearest, " he murmured, " we must get
you into the country and coax back the rose-
" Kiss me again, love," she answered, in a
stronger voice than he had heard for weeks.
" Now go — good-bye!"
He went — elastic, hopeful, full of plans.
He returned, having secured the agency. It
was summer-time, and he looked up at the
windows, hoping she might be lying on the
G. BRISCO. 235
sofa looking for him. All the blinds were
clown, yet the house did not front the west.
He put his key in the lock, and, with a
strange sort of hesitation, opened the door.
A woman he had never before seen came
" If you please, sir," she asked, "are you
Mr. Brisco ?"
" Yes — yes," he said breathlessly.
" I am sorry to tell you, sir, your poor wife
is gone. She went quite peacefully at four
o'clock. Lord save us !" she added in quite
a different tone, for Mr. Brisco had dropped
like one dead on the floor.
RIEF does not kill. If it did, there
are few who would outlive their
£fe«m first youth.
Trouble traces wrinkles on the heart, but
fails to stop its beating. Our capacity for
happiness is limited ; our capacity for sorrow
boundless. Sometimes we may well pause
to ask ourselves how humanity can bear the
burdens laid upon it — how it is possible to
endure the anguish and the agony which
may be comprised in twenty-four hours of
existence, and still remain outwardly un-
Grief did not kill Grantham Brisco ; though
for a while he lay on the sofa, to which kindly
neighbours carried him, like one bereft of
sense and feeling, he arose ere long, and
again faced life, which could never for ever
seem the same to him.
He had been married for over seven years
when his wife died. The time was not so
very long, yet it had sufficed to work many
changes. All the Daynes were scattered.
Mrs. Daynes was gone to a world where
it is to be hoped she found a warmer wel-
come than in her daughter's house. That
daughter's husband had been struck off the
rolls. There are families the members of
which ally themselves as surely with poverty
or disgrace as the sparks fly upward.
Not a man or woman of her own blood
stood beside Faith Brisco's grave. There
were but two mourners — her husband and her
nurse. They faced each other in the sombre
coach, and exchanged no word either on the
way to or from the churchyard. As the earth
rattled on the coffin-lid, Mr. Brisco could
have shrieked aloud, but he made no out-
ward sign. A brave man bound to the stake
would have so comported himself. The ordeal
had to be gone through — that was enough.
Poor husband — poor young wife ! they might
238 MITRE COURT.
have been happy here, perhaps ; but God
She was gone, and again the world lay
open before Grantham Brisco, to make what
he could out of.
He did not make much of the chance
offered. Perhaps that was scarcely his fault,
for a man handicapped with an old servant
and a young child can scarcely, even if
he be rich, map out a quite independent
He was aware his servant entertained a
prejudice against himself, as well as in favour
of extravagance ; but she had been fond of
his wife, and loved the little boy ; so he kept
her on. What better, indeed, could he have
The old struggle with poverty had still to
be waofed — debts had accumulated with that
fatal rapidity which seems in the very nature
of debt ; the agency did not pay as he ex-
pected it to do : perhaps only half his heart
was in the matter. He made a couple of
bad sales, and his principals became dissatis-
fied. He was ill in body as well as mind,
though he did not know it. The horror of
MOST LONELY. 239
sleeplessness was laid upon him like a curse ;
and because he could not endure the silence
and loneliness of the night-watches, he began
those weary wanderings of which the old
house in Botolph Lane could have told so
many a tale. Pie did not roam about the
narrow rooms at Homerton. After the nurse
and child were at rest, he was wont to pass
out into the darkness, and walk for hours
across Hackney Marshes, sometimes striking
the Newmarket Road, or skirting Rockholts,
making his way along Green Grove Lane to
the Lower Forest.
There was scarcely an inch of all that then
almost undiscovered country unknown to him.
He miorht have been seen striding - on the
banks of the Lea, where the heights of Upper
Clapton and the coldly gliding river showed
clear as day in a flood of moonlight ; but his
general goal was Epping. Along the green
alleys, beside which giant trees kept guard —
their interlacing branches forming a fitted
canopy, not close enough to hide the stars
shining down upon the flitting figure of one
most wretched — he paced. She had been all
the world to him, he often cried aloud in his
24o MITRE COURT.
solitary anguish — all the world ; and she was
" What shall I do — what shall I do ?" he
was wont despairingly to ask the solemn
silence, and for answer there came back to
him only the rustle of the leaves or the jar
of some night-bird.
It is a true saying that "grief is like
shame, just as we take it."
Mr. Brisco took his very badly indeed.
Which amongst us who has suffered but
knows from experience that over the grave
of any sorrow grass will of itself spring in
time, but it does not lie with us to hurry the
process. Nature knows all about it better
than we do. The seed of fresh hope is
within each one of us, and if we only let it
alone, after many days green shoots which
have been watered with our tears, and
nourished with the very anguish of our souls,
will appear to refresh and beautify our deso-
lation. We may not hasten the coming of
those tender blades, but we can prevent their
appearing altogether — we may in our passion
root them up, so that across the narrow rest-
ing-places of sorrow or of sin no grass of
MOST LONELY. 241
grace may wave, no tender bud of promise
bloom for ever. This was how Mr. Brisco
treated his grief — he tried to trample it under
foot, and failed. He had made to himself an
idol, and, when it was cast down, the very-
blackness of despair settled upon his soul.
And the blow dealt was hard — who dare
deny it ?
It would have been a hard stroke to any
man who had loved his wife ; but it was un-
utterably hard to Grantham Brisco. To him
she was the whole of existence ; during years,
every thought, every effort, every sacrifice
had been for her. And now it was all ended
— with a full-stop death had rounded off a
sentence which seemed to the unhappy hus-
band but just begun — and he was forced to
take up the sheaves of his life again, with
the grain eaten out of every ear of corn they
contained. The world is kindly enough,
though, maybe, it does not take the interest
in, and feel the veneration for, a great sorrow
in those of low estate, that it does when the
bereaved individual chances to have every-
thing the heart can desire save one ewe lamb
— one among a herd of blessings ; and Mr.
vol. 1. 16
242 MITRE COURT.
Brisco knowing this, and being, moreover,
blessed or cursed with a somewhat cynical
nature which neither asked nor desired sym-
pathy, elected to make no moan about his loss,
determined the memory of his wife should be
associated with nothing common or unclean.
When acquaintances would have uttered
ordinary words of condolence, he stopped
them short. His grief was — not between
God and himself, for he left God out of it
altogether, save in a spirit of rebellion and
bitterness — but between himself and the
dead. She was gone — for him there re-
mained nothing save to make such a best
of the remainder of life as seemed possible.
There were a few who, moved by a feeling
of pity, held out the right hand of fellow-
ship ; but Mr. Brisco showed by such un-
mistakable signs that he preferred his own
society to the best they could offer, that at
last he was left absolutely alone. He dropped
out of companionship with his kind utterly.
Had he been dead, he could not have owned
less in common with other men.
Abroad, as at home, in business and out
of it, he was one of the most ungenial of
MOST LONELY. 243
created beings. In no office did he ever stop
to chat ; he transacted whatever business he
chanced to have in hand, and then went his
way. Even the weather failed to interest
him. He did not seem to care whether it
were hot or cold, snow or sunshine ; but
whether he did or not, he had no remarks
to offer on the subject, and he listened to the
remarks of other persons with ill-concealed
" He never even ' makes ' of his son as any
other father would," grumbled that son's
nurse ; and this was quite true.
For a long time even the sight of the boy
was agony to him. When the child laughed,
he turned his head away ; when he played
and shouted, he could have stopped his ears.
The joyousness of youth grated on the man's
nerves like a lively tune heard in a house of
mourning. Nevertheless, his heart was all
unconsciously putting out little rootlets which
had for nourishment the lad's future. As the
poor overworked, underpaid doctor reared air-
castles for his son, so Grantham Brisco began
to dream of greatness for the child of his dead
16 — 2
J44 MITRE COURT.
Never for an instant was she forgotten.
Everything he did, everything he thought,
was done and thought with reference to one
whom no earthly action could pleasure or
sadden. The scanty food, the pinching per-
sonal economy that had once seemed petty
trials, now proved some sort of comfort to
the widower. If she had lacked much, it
was a bitter solace to feel he denied himself
even the few luxuries in which he nwht have
indulged. Rich viands, rare wines, even had
they been at his command, would, remember-
ing the bare poverty of their married life,
have choked him. If he could have felt
happy, he would have hated to be so. Had
he noted a single shoot of hope appearing
on the tree of his existence, he would have
destroyed it ruthlessly. A strange, sad,
lonely, wrecked man, wrecked unintelligibly
to the understanding of most outsiders.
His boy was more than eight years old
when Mr. Brisco awakened one day to the
fact that he had forgotten the simple lessons
taught him by the dead woman, and promised
to grow up an ignorant little vagabond.
This seemed a terrible thing to one who
MOST LONELY. 24;,
had in his own youth been an eager
" Master Ralph must go to school, Hannah,"
he said with decision.
" To school ? That child !" exclaimed
Hannah, disrespect and dislike curiously
blended in her tone.
"Yes," was the answer. " See that he is
properly dressed on Monday morning, and I
will take him to Mr. Fergusson's."
This time Hannah made no direct reply ;
but Mr. Brisco heard her banging the sauce-
pans about in the kitchen, and saying for his
" Could anybody believe it, and his own
flesh and blood, too — -wants to kill him next."
At the end of the first quarter Ralph
knew no more than had been the case when
he went to school. He could not spell words
of two syllables ; in despair, Mr. Brisco wrote
to his instructor, and this was the communica-
tion he received in return :
" Dear Sir,
" If you will keep your boy at home
four days out of the week, I think it some-
246 MITRE COURT.
what unreasonable on your part to expect
much progress in his studies.
" Yours faithfully,
" Alex. Fergusson."
That evening there was a very bad quarter
of an hour at Homerton. Mr. Brisco did
not say much ; but what he did say was to
the purpose. No one could have been left
in doubt as to his intentions. He meant his
boy to be well educated ; and as Hannah had
kept him from school, he must send him where
the chance of staying away could not offer.
He had discovered that Hannah was in
the habit of supplementing the small wage
she received from him by doing work for
the neighbours — washing, ironing, scrubbing,
anything, in fact, likely to bring in money.
During these absences the boy ran wild, or
else likewise visited the neighbours. About
these offences he spoke.
" If I did try to earn an honest penny, you
ought to be the last to blame me for it. I
did not spend what I got on myself, not a
farthing of it," declared the angry woman,
bursting into tears.
MOST LONELY. 247
Mr. Brisco did not speak, for he could not.
He did not open his lips to contradict the
torrent of reproach Hannah proceeded to
pour forth against him. Almost like one
guilty, he stood silent, as she rehearsed his
shortcomings — enlarged on the comfort of
the home from which he had taken his wife
— of the grief it was to " that angel now in
heaven ! ' not to have " things befitting about
He listened in wonder, marvelling at last
almost whether he had committed all the sins
laid to his charge ; but he answered no
syllable. Before the bar of what earthly
tribunal shall a proud man defend himself
against misconception and misrepresentation?
He may not so defend himself. Pride ties
his tongue concerning matters which another
would dwell on, in order to repel the charge.
How could Mr. Brisco tell anyone, how
much less a foolish ignorant shrew, of the
misery of the day he had fought through ; of
his long youth of poverty ; of his manhood
of struggle and disappointment ; of his heart
rent in twain when the light of his life was
taken from him ; of the unrewarded toil ; of
:43 MITRE COURT.
the gallant fight known only to himself; of
the privations he had never accounted as
such ; of the daily warfare he had waged
with circumstances ; of the way he had tried
to trample clown his grief, never leaving one
thing undone his brave right hand found to
do ; of the hopes, faint though they might
be, of making a better thing of existence for
his son than he had for himself; of the
pinching economy he had practised, in order
that the boy might not lack any reasonable
It was impossible, so he stood waiting
with apparent indifference till the woman's
vehemence had spent itself and dead silence
reigned, broken only by panting sobs ; then
he said :
" I do not judge you. I believe you
meant to act kindly by my child, but yours
is a kindness which would ruin the boy. I
cannot trust him with you any longer. He
must go to a boarding school, cost what it
may ; he shall not stop here another week."
Hurt and troubled though he was, he
would not give the woman notice. He
remembered that she had loved his wife ; in
MOST LONELY. 249
her way, he knew she loved the child, and
he felt it impossible to cast her from out the
shelter of his poor home, which was at least
warmer than the outer world.
But she saved him all trouble by loudly
and angrily discharging herself. She would
not stay if her darling was to be taken from
her. " She wouldn't stop — not she."
" Very well," answered her master; "but
remember I have not given you warning."
"Oh! there's other ways of getting rid of
those that have served their turn, besides
giving warning," she replied, with a toss of
her head and a defiant backward glance shot
over her shoulder as she left the room.
After that Ralph went to a school situate
some twenty miles from London. The
master had the name of pushing on his
pupils, and Mr. Brisco wished the boy to
make up for lost time. Presumably his son,
goaded along the road to learning, did what
in him lay to get on, for his progress certainly
was more than creditable ; but the change
from the softness and indulgence of his home
life proved far too great, and before the year
was out the schoolmaster sent in all haste to
2 so MITRE COURT.
say he was dangerously ill — that his life hung
on a thread.
Once more a struggling man had to face
fresh and heavy expenses. It was six
months before the matter of education could
even be thought of again, and then the boy
was placed under the charge of a curate who
only received three pupils.
This time Ralph did not acquit himself to
the satisfaction of his teacher. He was
reported idle, mischievous, hard to manage,
fond of pleasure, impossible to instruct. For
Latin and Greek he manifested a wicked
hatred. He cared for nothing but amuse-
ment and idle stories ; and, in a word, the
reverend gentleman begged that a pupil who
could never do him credit, and who had been
received on reduced terms at a time when
the R. G. was very glad indeed to get pupils
on any terms, might be removed.
With a sore heart Mr. Brisco did remove
the lad. Remembering what he himself had
been as a boy, dutiful, hard-working, his
son's shortcomings seemed, perhaps, greater
than they were. In all the sins mentioned,
Mr. Brisco could but see the worthless
MOST LONELY. 251
feathers of the Daynes showing them-
Lazy, self-indulgent, unscrupulous, every
man of them had been.
" And if Ralph is to grow up like them I
would rather lay him in his coffin," thought
the poor father, as he travelled down to take
charge of his youthful prodigal.
Only one son, and he not a comfort. Only
one child, for whom all his self-denial, all his
hard work, all his plans, seemed destined to
go for nought.
Again Ralph was brought to London.
This time his father got him into a good
public school, and kept the lad under
his own eye. Till he was a little over
thirteen affairs seemed to progress more
If he did not learn much, still he learnt
" I must give him time — he is young— he
will do well yet," thought the father.
It was at this period a chance offered of
renting the old house in Botolph Lane.
Mr. Brisco saw the advantage of such an
arrangement, and entered into an agreement
252 MITRE COURT.
to take over the lease. He laid his plans :
he would toil and save for his boy, whom he
meant to be a barrister. He would indulge
in no superfluity. He would live frugally as
of yore. During the day he would work
hard, and at night he would open the old
volumes business had forced him to lay
aside, and look out passages in Cicero and
Demosthenes to read to his dead wife's
But meantime he and his son were no
nearer than they had ever been. It was
only in the imagination of an eccentric man
that wayward youth and crabbed age sat
down together to read in the works of those
who have left no message for a frivolous and
It was a dream, yet it pleased Mr. Brisco.
The boy was not fourteen, but he thought
already he ought to have an old head on his
On the face of the earth there was
nothing further from Ralph's mind than
serious effort or study of any sort. He had
youth's lack of comprehension of sorrow,
shortness, struggle. He did not understand
MOST LONELY. 253
his father. He saw other boys well supplied
with pocket-money, well dressed, well fed,
well cared for. He did not understand why
he too should not be well dressed, well fed,
well cared for.
So there came a division between him and
his father. He had been asked by a certain
schoolmate, named Harris, to a picnic party.
Mr. Brisco at once negatived the invitation.
Ralph said nothing, but went. When he
returned home his father asked where he
had been. The boy told him. Had his
mother been living she would have smoothed
matters and made everything right, but as
affairs stood everything went wrong.
In dogged silence Ralph listened to his
" I must end all this," said Mr. Brisco at
last. " For years you have been a trouble
and anxiety to me. I shall now place you
where your propensities will be restrained,
your disobedience checked, and your abilities,
if you have any, developed. You are more
than I can manage. I must find some one —
I will immediately find some one able to
control you. Now go to bed."
254 MITRE COURT.
Without a word Ralph slunk off. His
father never had struck him, but perhaps he
felt he deserved a thrashing.
He did not get it, however. Afterwards
Mr. Brisco felt glad to remember this, for
next morning the lad was nowhere to be
found — nowhere.
He had no money — he did not take a
thins: out of the house save himself and the
clothes he wore over-night. Dressed just as
his father had seen him last, he must have
stolen from his home and gone — where ?
High and low he was sought for, but not
found. Days passed — weeks — months — and
still no tidings were heard of the missing lad.
Though she stoutly denied all knowledge of
his whereabouts, Mr. Brisco for a long time
clung to the belief that Hannah might, if she
chose, furnish a clue to the mystery, but at
length he felt compelled to abandon this idea.
She was in service earning her wages
hard by. How could she be keeping a
boy in hiding, for whose discovery a reward
was posted on every police station in the
Had he known his son to be dead, Mr.
Brisco fancied he should have borne the
trouble better. What in comparison to this
loss of her child had been the loss even of
his wife ? It was the one charge left to him
by her. How did it happen he had failed in
his trust ?
Once again the old anguish, from which
time had taken somewhat of its poignancy,
returned, bringing with it a deeper anguish
still. Little over middle age, he looked an
old man. His hair became grey, his face
haggard, his body wasted. Night after
night he rose from his bed when sleep
refused to visit him, and wandered through
the rooms, and paced the roof of a house in
which he had hoped to make a fresh start for
success if not for happiness.
Pecuniarily he was doing better, com-
paratively he was doing well, but the search
for his boy could not be conducted without
much expense ; and when he dared to face
his accounts, he found that, so far from
making headway, he had actually got into
debt more deeply than ever. If health
failed — if he were stricken down — what
remained save the Union or suicide ?
!56 MITRE COURT.
Often in those days he felt tempted to end
the long struggle ; but he was no coward ;
besides, at any moment the wanderer might
return. Like the father of old, from afar it
was possible he should yet behold his
prodigal ; and though he had no fatted calf
to kill, or gold ring to put on his finger, or
friends to make merry with, still the child —
her child — would be restored to him. Dim
and dark though the future seemed, it was
the faint hope of once more seeing his son
which kept the man alive and enabled him to
work. He was still advertising, still em-
ploying detectives, still drifting over a sea of
doubt, when one winter's night he received a
letter addressed in an unknown hand.
Only a few lines were traced on the half-
sheet of note-paper he drew out of the
" Cease searching for your son. He has
found a friend who will do better for him
than you ever could."
As he finished reading, all the old wounds
in the man's proud, lonely heart seemed to
burst out bleeding afresh.
MOST LONELY. 257
His son was alive, but with strangers, who
were preferred before the father who had
toiled, and suffered, and pinched, and denied
himself for the boy as he had denied himself
joyfully for the mother.
It was then the iron entered into his soul
— then the wall, which had always stood
between this man and his fellows, rose in a
moment so high that thenceforth he stood
practically alone in a world filled with striving
suffering, mourning, rejoicing, triumphant
vol. 1. 17
IN MITRE COURT.
S a rule great enterprises do not
spring in a moment to life booted
It may be true enough, as some persons
assert, that remarkable ideas have flashed
across their brains with the swiftness and
brilliancy of lightning ; but, after all, an idea
is one thing and a perfected project quite
For this reason, once for all, it may
be said that the great undertaking which
ultimately brought money and notoriety to
Karl Katzen was not a sudden inspiration.
It grew and grew till it attained magnificent
He was as one who, casting strange seed
IN MITRE COURT. 259
into the ground, watches with astonishment a
lordly crop springing from that which himself
Mr. Katzen's imagination supplied that
gentleman with an at first very miscellaneous
assortment of grain f or culture. Some of it
came to nothing. Some, when the crop was
ripe, proved valueless ; but one root bore
ears, as great as those in Joseph's dream.
By the time he had finished harvesting, the
new Consul's barns were full, and he had to
enlarge all the plans of his life in order to
hold the produce.
It was some time, however, before he even
thought of planting. In the wicked ways of
monetary London he was no novice. He
regarded the City exactly as Blucher did — as
a place to sack. He had raised " the one
thing needful," by every possible and well-
nigh by every impossible means. He had
been agent for specialities without number,
and it may safely be said in no single instance
did his principals come out scatheless.
But that was never Mr. Katzen's fault ;
some one else was always to blame, some-
times even the principals themselves. It
17 — 2
260 MITRE COURT.
was as easy to get firm grasp of an eel as
of Mr. Katzen. He managed to keep just
within the law, though how, sailing so near
the wind, he contrived to do this he alone
could have told. For indeed he did things
quite beyond the law. He established differ-
ent houses in various parts of the world, and
drew upon those fictitious firms with a cool
disregard of possible consequences that would
have made any honest man's hair stand on
Yet somehow it all came right. A person
with unlimited assurance and almost un-
limited resource, who is " constantly about,"
would indeed be dense if he failed to meet
under the shadow of the Dragon and the
Grasshopper with at least one flat a week.
Mr. Katzen met with a great many flats —
and a great many rogues — and so the whole
game finally became one of manipulation.
He never permitted anything to drift ; he
was always prepared. When the time was
ripe he failed ; not in a loud, demonstrative,
aggravating sort of way — but meekly and
He knew a solicitor accustomed to manag-
IN MITRE COURT.
ing such affairs, and so was wont to get his
"matter shoved through" without any unne-
As a rule creditors hate trouble, and hate
publicity still more. Many of them are not
so solvent themselves that they care to have
attention attracted to their losses. Therefore
if Mr. Katzen offered anything in the way
of a composition they were usually fain to
accept it — and avoid bankruptcy. Already
he had thus compounded three times ;
and there seemed no great reason why he
should not compound two hundred and
ninety-seven times more — when the Consul-
ship for New Andalusia dropped at his
Of course that was a job. The person
who procured the appointment for him had
an interest in his being so appointed, but that
did not signify. For the first time in his life
Mr. Katzen felt himself in a position to play
at football with Fortune. Hitherto he could
only be regarded, could only regard himself,
as a mere hanger-on at her gates ; now he
held a card for her assemblies.
Archimedes wanted a waste piece of ground
262 MITRE COURT.
in space for the screw which should turn the
earth. Mr. Katzen knew he had found a
vacant plot where he could plant his machin-
ery, but for a time he was at a standstill for
some world to turn.
There is a great deal in a name. In his
case Mr. Katzen believed there was all in a
name, and the result proved his belief was
To the mind of ordinary humanity — you,
and you, my neighbours, and you in the next
street — it might not occur that the title of
Consul meant anything beyond a certain
salary ; but you, and you, and you, would be
mistaken. Does not "Sir" carry a weight,
and General, and Colonel, and Captain even ?
and yet no one so designated may receive a
penny of income from capital invested or
from work fairly done.
Once the notion was correct enough, but it
is not now. It is greatly to the credit of the
innocence of tradespeople that a title and a
carriage can deceive them even in these days
of " stores." After a little — when they have
eaten more freely of the tree of the knowledge
•f good and evil — they will learn a lesson
IN MITRE COURT. 263
which must prove bitter to their so-called
" The tide has turned," said Mr. Katzen
to himself when he took possession of his new
offices in Mitre Court, City, still almost as
quiet and out-of-the-way a spot as the court-
yard on which the old house in Botolph Lane
No awkward demands now for further
references, or cash in advance to tradesfolk,
or something - at least on account before
necessary work was commenced. Alterations
were hurried on ; the rooms were swept and
garnished, papered, painted, varnished, white-
washed, filled with brand-new furniture ; and
then, all being ready, Mr. Katzen seated
himself in his new chair in front of a large
library-table, looked at the still unsoiled
blotting-pad, the envelope-case filled with
headed notepaper, the large glass inkbottle
into which pen had never yet been dipped,
and considered the future, not without a
vague wonder as to what that future might
His was an inscrutable face — his a
phlegmatic manner. As a rule he met
264 MITRE COURT.
disaster and success with the same marvel-
lous equanimity. When he made a coup, he
did not go about the City open-mouthed,
proclaiming his good fortune ; and if he
came in for a loss, no one could have told
the fact from his look or voice.
It was true he had taken a departure in
the matter of his new dig-nitv ; but this was
partly owing to the circumstance that imagina-
tion had for the time being obtained posses-
sion of his nature, and greatly because he had
a purpose to serve in sounding the trumpets
and beating the drums in honour of Karl
Katzen, Consul for New Andalusia.
He knew — no one better — that many
people might utterly fail to see the im-
portance of his position, and that it was
necessary to impress upon persons like the
Jeffleys, for example, that he had suddenly
ascended many rungs of the commercial
ladder. Mrs. Jeffley would spread the news
like a town-crier. Jack even might casually
mention it. Common talk is as cheap a form
of advertisement as can be adopted, and it
was well, he felt, that the talk should make
him as important an individual as possible.
IN MITRE COURT. 26:
Further, though he did not in the least know
what he was going to do with New An-
dalusia now he had got it, he felt there
could be no harm in setting men's tongues
wagging about a virtually unknown country.
He might see his way to floating some mine,
or starting some new industry — meat-pre-
serving, emigration, fruit-growing, grain-ex-
porting, humming-birds for ladies' bonnets —
all sorts of plans and notions were seething
in the caldron of his busy brain. What he
wanted was to make money, and he did not
care how. " After years I have at length got
my great chance," he said to Mrs. Jeffley.
" Patience, and you shall see what I will
make of it."
In the race he meant to run he did not
carry an ounce weight. Even his rather
doubtful antecedents counted for nothing.
In London there are always fresh people
coming forward. By the time one set of
dupes have been squeezed dry, another are
pressing on their heels in their greed for
high interest — in their thirst for money they
have not earned, clamouring almost to be
cheated, to be eased of the hundreds and
266 MITRE COURT.
thousands they are ready to invest so
" If I can hit on a really good thing, it will
be so much the better for us all," considered
Mr. Katzen ; and then he walked to the
windows, and drew down the blinds, and
afterwards walked back to the table, and
stood beside it thinking.
In truth, he was in a state of mind unusual
for him — restless. He wanted to begin to
make his fortune that hour — that instant.
The silence of the place did not calm him.
On the contrary, the knowledge that a
regular clerk was seated in the outer office,
though in one way gratifying, rather in-
terfered with that sense of personal liberty
which can only be thoroughly enjoyed by a
man who locks his door every time he goes
out, and takes the key with him. He knew
he should soon grow accustomed to the
change, but meantime it was not quite
pleasant. Further, he did not exactly like
his clerk. He had, in a lordly sort of way,
offered the berth to Frank Scott, and Frank
Scott refused to accept it. This annoyed
him more than the matter seemed worth, and
IN MITRE COURT. 267
caused a temporary coolness between Mrs.
JefHey and a young fellow " who could not
see his own interests."
"You'll be just such another as Mr.
Jeffley," said the brisk Maria, "and always
stand in your own light. You'll never have
such an offer again, Mr. Frank."
" That is very likely," answered Mr.
Frank ; " but I should not like to leave my
" Well, well ; remember you have nobody
but yourself to thank, whatever happens,"
retorted Mrs. Jeffley sharply — so sharply,
indeed, that Frank, who had been rather in
favour for a short time, thought it prudent to
keep as much as possible out of his hostess'
sight till his offence should be forgotten.
"If you can't get a clerk to your mind,"
said Mrs. Jeffley to Mr. Katzen, " why do
you not give a helping hand to your old land-
lord, and let him have the situation ?"
" He would not take it," was the reply.
"You try him, that's all."
" I lack courage," persisted Mr. Katzen.
" Though he is as poor as one of your church
mice, he is as proud as Lucifer."
-63 MITRE COURT.
" I have no patience with such nonsense,"
declared Mrs. Jeffley. " He ought to be
thankful to get such a chance. I am sure
the way that girl has to work is cruel —
there ! and I do not mind who hears me
" She does not think so," was Mr. Katzen's
only comment ; but he did not cease con-
sidering Mrs. Jeffley's suggestion.
A man like Mr. Brisco was the very
person he wanted. Still, he could not make
up his mind to hazard such a proposal.
There was a fence in Mr. Brisco's nature
the boldest rider seemed afraid to take.
Even Mr. Katzen's impudence shrank from
attempting it, and that gentleman had known
him for a long time. Nevertheless, circum-
stances alter cases ; and Mr. Katzen, in his
now well-furnished, well-appointed offices,
with his rank painted on the door, felt he
was a different man from the Karl Katzen
who rented a dark little room at a low rent
in Botolph Lane, and often scarcely knew
where the next meal was to come from.
"Hang it!" he thought, walking again to
the window, and this time pulling up the
IN MITRE COURT. 269
blind half-way. " A fellow so poor, and past
his work, ought to be glad and grateful to
get a salary for only sitting and answering
questions and writing a few letters. I will
put it to him on the very first occasion that
At the precise moment when he arrived at
this determination, the clerk appeared, and
stated that Mr. Brisco wished to see Mr.
" This is friendly," said the new Consul, as
Mr. Brisco entered, holding out his hand
with great cordiality, and shaking Mr.
Brisco's bloodless fingers with a heartiness
which caused that gentleman to wince.
" Do you know you are my earliest visitor ?
I am glad it should chance to be you who
assume the character of ' first foot.' I think
you will bring me good luck."
Mr. Brisco smiled bitterly as he said,
"Yes, I know I look just the sort of person
to bring good luck."
" Now I can't have that," remonstrated
Mr. Katzen. " I have a presentiment — I
feel it here," and he touched the left-hand
side of his waistcoat — " that I am Sfoins: to
270 MITRE COURT.
be fortunate ; and who knows but that I may
not prove instrumental in improving matters
a little for you !"
" That is a very kind remark," returned
Mr. Brisco. It seemed a plain sort of speech,
yet, though Mr. Katzen looked at his visitor
hard, he could not quite understand what his
late landlord really meant by it.
" You see, I have got almost settled here,"
said the new Consul, glancing not without
pride round his room.
" Yes, you look very clean and new,"
answered Mr. Brisco, referring, doubtless, to
the office ; for certainly no human being
could with truth have said Mr. Katzen
looked clean or new. Rather, he always
presented a very second-hand appearance,
seeming to stand almost as much in need of
varnishing, and painting, and whitewashing,
as his place had done. " I like your old
house better, though."
Mr. Brisco inclined his head in acknowledg-
ment of the implied compliment. " Hayburn
has given up the offices," he said.
" No! Has he, though?"
" Yes. Sold his furniture to Welford ;
IN MITRE COURT. 271
paid his rent up to last March, and left me
without a tenant."
"What an unprincipled hound! What a
dog in the manger! And I did so want
"Yes, it is unfortunate."
"It will be a serious loss to you, having
those rooms empty," observed Mr. Katzen,
who knew perfectly well Mr. Brisco had
come to tell him of Mr. Hayburn's change of
front, hoping he would return to Botolph
" I have served my apprenticeship to loss,"
said Mr. Brisco.
Sitting there in the bright sunshine, he
looked indeed a man who had served as he
His coat, once black, had changed with
age to green. It was of an antique cut, worn
quite white at the seams, and polished across
the shoulders. His trousers, of shepherd's
plaid, seemed to have shrunk with the years,
that had likewise rendered them baggy at
the knees. His waistcoat was of some sort
of nankeen, fashionable, possibly, at a remote
period, but it was faded with frequent washing,
172 MITRE COURT.
and glazed with repeated starching - . He had
a green and white muslin necktie, and his
only ornament was an ancient silver watch,
attached to a steel chain. As for his hat, its
pensive browns looked almost picturesque in
the strong light which brought out many
changing shades, and lit up also the severe
lines of that sad, emaciated face. He had a
high forehead, a small aquiline nose, thin and
almost colourless lips, small cold eyes of a
steely blue, scanty grey hair, whiskers equally
scanty and equally grey, that gave him an
almost rugged appearance. He was tall, and
had no doubt been, at one period of his life,
a fine-looking man.
" Old Mortality," one of his tenants had
dubbed him, and Mr. Katzen, on that
summer's morning, thought the name fitted
to a nicety.
In the new Consul's freshly painted office
— smelling of varnish ; furniture glossy and
polished from the maker's hands — Mr. Brisco-
looked as much out of place as a dingy " old
master," its frame tarnished and broken, would
seem in the drawing-room of a nouveau rzche.
Such as he was, however — a mere wreck
IN MITRE COURT. 273
of what had been — he sat with the light
streaming full on his face and figure. He
and Mr. Katzen might at that moment have
suggested to the mind of any fanciful observer
the Spirits of the Past and the Present. For
Mr. Brisco, no future of prosperity appeared
possible ; whereas, to men like the new
Consul, there is often but one stride from
failure to success.
" I expect you have known a good deal
of loss," said Mr. Katzen, in answer to his
old landlord's last remark. " But let us hope
there are better times to come."
"If you please," suggested Mr. Brisco,
" we will not speak about what sort of times
may be in store for me, or of me, indeed,
"As you like," returned Mr. Katzen gaily.
" Of what shall we talk ? I know there are
not many subjects that interest you."
" Suppose you speak about yourself,"
suggested Mr. Brisco. " I shall be glad to
hear how you are getting on, and I fancy the
theme will not weary you. Men as a rule, I
notice, do not weary of harping on one
string if it be a personal one."
vol. 1. 18
274 MITRE COURT.
" To that rule you are an exception,"
answered the Consul.
" To most rules I fancy I am an exception. "
" My faith, I think you are- — I think you
are," said Mr. Katzen, softly patting the
table. " But we were not to talk about you,
I remember — only about this good child,
Karl Katzen. Well, what is it you desire to
know as regards the new Consul and your
old friend. (I wonder what he is diving
after — what wind has blown him here,"
added Mr. Brisco's old friend in a mental
" What are you doing ?"
" What are you going to do ?"
" That depends — make my fortune, for one
" How "
" What is the good of planning ? I have
no plans. Wherever I see a chance I shall
go in and win- — wherever there is a weak
point in the wall I shall enter and take
"You really think you are going to make
IN MITRE COURT. 275
"No, pardon me — I do not think; I am
sure. So far, there has been no time to
compass anything. You come to me before
we are another year older, and you shall hear
what you shall hear."
"It will give me great pleasure to hear
you are doing well."
" I believe you, I really do — I am quite in
earnest. I cannot think there is any jealousy
"Why do you lay such an emphasis upon
that you — do you know many men given to
the sin of jealousy ?"
"No, I do not; but I have it on Miss
Weir's authority that all men are jealous."
" Do you mean Abigail ?"
" Even so — the charming Miss Abigail."
" What can she know about jealousy ?"
" You had better ask her, dear sir. She
knows a great deal about many things. /
won't ask her — she might box my ears."
For a moment Mr. Briscosat silent, looking
down at the pattern of the carpet ; then,
lifting his head, he said with abrupt
" I will be plain with you — I did not come
!76 MITRE COURT.
here to-day to ask after your welfare, though
I am glad to hear you mean to prosper. I
wanted to know — that is — do you remember
some time ago bidding me observe that
Abigail was a child no longer, but a eirl —
who might have lovers ?"
" I well remember — that was at Whitsun-
tide. What then ?"
"Had you any special reason for making
such a remark ?"
" I ? Lord, no !"
" You are quite sure ?"
" Quite. Are you sure you have no special
reason for reverting to the subject ?"
"Were I only to answer 'No,' I should
not be answering quite truthfully ; yet I feel
I have no right to answer ' Yes.' '
" I suspect you have, though !" exclaimed
Mr. Katzen. " Take me into confidence —
tell me what is troubling you. Am I not the
little one's friend ? Have I not known her
since six years ? She was but a mite then in
her short skirt and that funny jacket, and
now she is — but you know what she is now
better than I. Yes, tell me, Mr. Brisco —
you could not tell anyone better able to
IN MITRE COURT. 277
advise and help you than I — who is the
lover. I told her I felt a conviction there
was one at least waiting round the corner. I
await with impatience your disclosure."
" I have nothing to disclose," answered Mr.
Brisco slowly. " There is, so far as I know,
not any lover ; but — I am scarcely satisfied
about the girl. She is changed in some way
— and she has no mother — we can go to," he
added after an almost imperceptible pause.
"How, changed? How, not satisfied?"
demanded the new Consul. " I implore you
to confide in me, to pour out your heart to
Karl Katzen, who knows all about women
from their tight boots to their false hair.
What you tell shall be buried deep here,"
and again he placed a hand on his waistcoat.
" There is nothing much to tell," said Mr.
" At any rate, tell it," urged his old friend.
" I suppose I had better," answered Mr.
Brisco, and after a moment's hesitation he
DO not think," said Mr. Brisco,
" I should have noticed the change
which has taken place in Abigail
had it not been for the remark you made
" I have a ' think ' too," answered the new
Consul; "and it makes me feel very sure
of your own self you would have noticed
nothing. No — no — I pray you not to look
so black ; since a long time you are aware
your old friend Katzen is nothing if not frank."
Supposing Mr. Brisco's friend Katzen had
substituted the word "rude" for " frank," he
might have been nearer the bull's-eye he
meant to hit.
For a moment Mr. Brisco hesitated ; then
" ABOUT ABIGAIL." 279
he said, "You are right. Occupied with my
own concerns, but for the advantage of
coming in contact with a younger and less
preoccupied intelligence than my own I
should certainly, I fear, have failed to observe
events passing under my eyes."
"As for example?" queried Mr. Katzen,
with no look of greater interest in his face,
with no brighter light in his dull eyes, his
hands motionless — his whole aspect that of a
person who was listening to mere babble for
the sake of civility.
Foreigners sometimes overdo the thing.
" I beg your pardon," said Mr. Brisco,
rising, and buttoning his shabby coat around
his lean figure, " I ought not to have intruded
upon your valuable time a matter so merely
" I seem able to do right never !" ex-
claimed Mr. Katzen, rising too, and literally
forcing his visitor down again into the just
vacated seat. "If it happen that I express
an opinion, I am wrong ; if I ask for in-
formation, pray for a mere glimmer of light
to guide me along the darksome road of a
woman's mind — always supposing a woman
to have a mind as well as a will — I go wrong
once more. Do extend a little patience to
one who does not quite understand the
English game of hot and cold. I want to
find, I do — but though perhaps you believe
you are playing some sort of music to help
German stupidity, upon my soul, I do not
understand a note of it. What events are
they which but for one casual remark of mine
would have passed unseen under eyes usually
keen and quick enough ?"
" They can scarcely prove of interest to
you," said Mr. Brisco coldly. " I forgot that
you had entered on a new sphere, and have
naturally left former times behind."
" I have left no times behind — a man can't
cast his skin like a toad, and drop portions of
himself along life's weary highway. Besides,
I would not, if I could, forget an hour spent
in the old house. Ach ! have I not been
happy there, spite of all the trouble ; and if I
took not an interest in you and the girl, in
whom should 1 take an interest ?"
" You are very good indeed to say so,"
remarked Mr. Brisco, mollified, yeti scarcely
« ABO UT A BIG A ZL." 281
" I think so, which is more. Can I not
recall that bitter winter morning when I went
to the office early on no pleasant errand of
mine own ! That charming Mrs. Childs with
her lovely niece in attendance stood aside in
all humility on the first landing to let my
great self pass upstairs. The good creature's
face was pinched with cold — every part of it
which was not black was blue. Dirt was
ground into each line of her countenance —
she was so dirty, she looked like an old
master, or a blurred engraving ; so dirty,
she struck me as absolutely picturesque, and
I could not avoid stealing another glance. It
was then I saw in her face something more
than the pinch of cold or the black of grime.
" 'What has occurred ?' I asked ; and she,
good diplomatic soul, made answer, ' Only
that we have got a stranger here.'
"'What sort of a stranger,' I asked — 'a
white mouse or a new kind of black beedle ?'
Mrs. Childs always calls them ' beedles,' and as
she ought to be an authority on black things,
I suppose she is right."
" Your memory seems excellent," suggested
" It is indeed," said Mr. Katzen, taking no
notice of the impatient ring in his ex-land-
lord's voice ; "but not to weary you, and to
what you English so funnily call cut a long
story short, Mrs. Childs, after declaring it was
worse than a mouse ' or any other vermin,'
' up and told me' — to adopt a favourite phrase
of her own — that there was a little girl in the
house — that where she had come from was a
mystery — that the clothes which covered her
were in such rags it was only the threads held
them together — that she was at that very
minute as ever was, while Mrs. Childs stood
talking to me — begging my pardon for the
liberty — going on dreadful, in a manner of
speaking all in a quaking delirium, and that
something warned her evil must come of it :
she only hoped it might not be to Mr. Brisco
himself, who had almost snapped the nose off
her face for offering to go, in the piercing
cold too, in search of a policeman, who would
have taken the young hussy to the station-
house. Dear Mrs. Childs was most energetic
and delightful, and the maiden Sophy stood
sniffling and chuckling till her aunt said she
had better mind her manners, more especially
"ABOUT ABIGAIL." 283
as such a disgrace had come upon a decent
house. She also told me of a bad dream she
dreamt, no longer ago than the night before
last, or she hoped she might never stir again ;
and would have enlarged upon the fact that
dreaming of being on the water meant trouble,
but I cut her short, and went up to my office,
where I found annoyance enough waiting to
put dreams and girls and rags and Mrs.
Childs out of my mind."
" I wonder I tolerated such a creature
about the house," muttered Mr. Brisco.
" She did her work," commented the
Consul, "but I fear she used a great deal too
much Nixey. She was, she is, a living
example of the powers of black lead ; the
only drawback is, she does not polish. Well,
to return to our sheep."
" I have not an idea what sheep it was, or
where we left it browsing," interrupted Mr.
" Here is a colley can find it," laughed the
other. "We have never really lost sight of
your pet lamb."
" You could scarcely have selected two
words less appropriate to myself and the
284 MITRE COURT.
girl had you searched the dictionary
through," retorted Mr. Brisco — " nothing
more grotesque than the idea of my keeping
a pet could well be conceived ; and whatever
else she may be, Abigail certainly does not
resemble a lamb."
" I do not know that she does," confessed
the new Consul. " She is not fluffy, and it
might be hard to lead her even with the help
of a blue ribbon anywhere she did not want
to go. The first time I saw her, I thought
she was an imp. My faith ! shall I ever
forget my amazement ? I had been absent
for nearly three months — I left you in winter ;
when I returned it was spring. I had passed
through a bad time, a very bad time. The
ill news I found waiting for me the morning-
good Mrs. Childs and I met on your stairs
took me abroad, and kept me there for many
an anxious day ; and it was a beautiful
evening in April when once again I inhaled
the delightful odours of Love Lane. The
evening was Saturday. En route to Fowkes'
Buildings, T thought, ' I'll just see if the old
house is still standing.' It was looking as I
had left it. I ran up the steps, I put my key
''ABOUT ABIGAIL." 285
in the lock, the latch lifted, and in a moment
I passed from the subdued grey of Love
Lane into a hall bathed with the yellow light
of a setting sun. The door looking out on
the courtyard stood wide ; around the court-
yard were the silent warehouses, deserted till
the second morning of another week. A
silence as of perfect rest — not death — reigned
throughout the place. It seemed like an
enchanted palace, with broad streams of
mellow sunshine flooding marble floor and
the great staircase and the once panelled
walls. There only wanted one touch of life,
and it came.
" From out the dining-room there sprang a
small figure, clad in a blue skirt and a red
garibaldi. It carried a tin pot-lid, on which
it played some music to which it sang and
danced. It went through every possible antic
of movement and gesture ; except the dancing
crane, I have never seen anything half so
funny : — ' Tir-a-la — tir-a-la — la-ta — tir-a-la —
tir-a-la — la-ti — tir — turn — tir-to — tir-de — tir-
a-la — tir-a-la — tir-a-la — tir-a-la — tir-dum — '
and then she saw me "
" Time she did," interposed Mr. Brisco.
286 MITRE COURT.
:i Now don't be cynical," entreated the
narrator, " because you know you take an
interest in the young monkey.
"'Well, fairy sprite,' I asked, 'and where
do you come from ?'
"'Well, burglar man,' she replied as bold
as brass, ' and where do you come from ?'
" She was not in the least afraid. I put the
question to her, and she said contemptuously,
'What should I be afraid of? But you have
no business here — how did yoii get in ?' '
" I suppose you are recalling these events
under the impression that they must prove
interesting to me," interposed Mr. Brisco.
"If, however, I assure you that they are on
the contrary unpleasant, perhaps you will
kindly confine yourself to the present, and
say whether you had really any hidden reason
for the remark you made some time ago to
the effect that Abigail was a comely girl who
had reached a marriageable age."
"Is she not what you call comely — is she
too young to think of marriage ? Heaven !
she is not too young for other people to think
of marrying her !"
"What people ?"
"ABOUT ABIGAIL." 287
" What people ! any people — every people."
" Has it ever come to your knowledge,
that amongst the multitude of human beings
you seem to imagine must desire to marry the
girl, there is one in especial for whom she
Mr. Katzen paused. He felt almost in-
clined to answer, " Yes, she cares for Karl
Katzen," but doubt and prudence combined
kept him silent. Besides, he wanted to see
Mr. Brisco's hand. He believed that gentle-
man held a court card of some sort, and there
was nothing he desired more than to know
its exact value.
" No," he said at last, " I have not any in-
formation on the subject. How should I
" I cannot tell," answered Mr. Brisco. " I
cannot tell." There was such a tone of de-
spondency in his words that Mr. Katzen's
curiosity at once sprang into more active life.
He took his cue in a moment.
" Look you here, long year friend and
landlord," he exclaimed, "why should we
play at hot and cold any longer ? You be-
lieve there is something to be found — what is
-88 MITRE COURT.
it ? You want my help to find it- — where do
you think is the most likely place for us to
go look ?"
" Why should I trouble you about the
matter ?" said Mr. Brisco.
"Why ? Because I remember — because you
and the ofirl are more to me than most. It
was because I wanted you to feel I was one
with you, that I talked a while ago what you
thought babble. Is it babble to say I have
not forgotten the old wide-eaved, many-
srabled wooden house where I was born ; that
in waking dreams I see often the pine-woods
and the blue mountains of my fatherland (I
thank D'Israeli the first for anglicizing that
phrase) ; that the blue-green depths of the
Rhine still hold mysteries for me, and that,
though common-sense says ' No,' fantasy-
makes me see and hear the Lorelei seated on
her high grey rock, singing such sweet and
plaintive songs as cause wise men to rush to
their doom ? After all, the backbone of life
is memorv, and the longer a man lives, and
the stronger his mind grows, the more he
recurs to the past."
" It may be so," agreed Mr. Brisco : " yet,
"ABOUT ABIGAIL." 289
personally, I cannot think memory a bless-
« No ? — yet consider what pictures she
paints for one ! Where is the art gallery
hung with such gems as you may find hung
on the walls of any man's mind ? — many a sad
scene, many a sordid interior, no doubt ! But
think of the landscapes — of the glorious
dawns, of the sleepy noons, of the busy street
scenes, of the tender moonlights, and the
magnificent sunsets any man who has eyes
to see, and a heart to understand, may collect
to gladden his heart withal, before he has
reached the first third of man's allotted span."
" No doubt you are right," said Mr. Brisco
dreamily. He was trying to understand —
striving, as at some time we must all have
striven — vaguely to comprehend the purely
intellectual, and to us well-nigh unintelligible
view of men, nature, and art, which is taken
by foreigners. We — speaking of English
folk generally — look out of the windows of
our heart ; we narrow everything into a
question of feeling. It is not so with those
born out of our nice little, tight little island.
Sentiment may cloud or gild the world's face
vol. 1. 19
290 MITRE COURT.
to the eye of a foreigner, but as a rule he sur-
veys all God's wondrous gifts to man through
He sees things as they are ; we see them
as we feel them.
It is this difference, I imagine, which
separates us from foreigners. They are too
wise, too sensible, too shrewd, to please or
be pleased with a foolish nation impelled along
the rails of life by the force of its own weight.
"Yes," said Mr. Katzen, answering Mr.
Brisco's informal thought. " I am quite
right. The girl's first coming, her terror, her
rags, her entreaty, have left no such picture
on your memory as the first sight of that
lean, quaint child, dancing over the marble
once trodden by your great Sir Christopher,
has on me. Ach Gott ! as I talk the years
roll back, and I see her once again with her
quaint airs and funny graces — ' Tir-a-la, tir-a-
la, tir-de ' — and then, in the middle of our
after-talk, down comes Mrs. Childs, fresh
from the rite of some mysterious dirt-offering.
" ' What are you doing, missy ?' she cried,
in that pleasant voice of hers. ' You had
best get out of this. If Mr. Brisco finds you
"ABOUT ABIGAIL:' 291
a-dancing about his hall, and a-wearing out of
his marble stones, he'll pay you.'
" Then missy went ruefully, finger in
mouth, tambourine again transformed into
a pot-lid hanging by her side, the little
twinkling feet changed in an instant to feet
that seemed to carry a burden, and her
wonderful, tender, saucy eyes full, quite full,
" 'Who is she ?' I asked Mrs. Childs ; and
then that excellent person said she was the
sweeping of some slum. I thought of the
dust before the besom, and inquired where the
dust had gone.
" ' To her bit of a room, sir,' answered dear
Mrs. Childs. 'It's there she generally goes
when she's in one of her tantrums.'
"Without saying anything to Mrs. Childs,
I sought that bit of a room, and knocked.
" 'Who's that ?' sanQf out the waif.
" ' The bad burglar man,' I answered.
" ' The bad burglar man must take himself
off,' she said, '/'m going to bed.'
" ' Good-night, then, my dear,' I cried
through the keyhole, ' till Monday.' "
" Yes, Mr. Katzen ?"
19 — 2
292 MITRE COURT.
" Yes, Mr. Brisco."
" I meant to inquire, what then ?"
" I meant to inquire, what now ?"
" I fail exactly to catch your meaning."
" Really ? Well, perhaps — anyhow, this is
the way affairs stand. The little bright, im-
pudent child has grown to a brighter, impu-
denter girl, and you fear for her — fear the
woman's lot has come — fear she likes some-
body who perhaps likes not her the right
"What are you driving at?" asked Mr.
Brisco, a hot gust of passion agitating his
voice, and causing the swift delicate colour
the new Consul had learnt to know so well,
to tinge his pale cheeks with the faintest
shade of pink. "If anyone cares for the
girl, and I have no reason to suppose any-
one does, why should he not care for her in
the right way ? Abigail is no baby. She
needs no mother to warn her of the world's
pitfalls. The women she has mixed most
with are not usually given to reticence. She
might fail to pass an examination in the
world's wickedness. One French novel, I dare
say, contains more vice than is known in the
' ' ABOUT A BIG A IL." 293
whole ward of Billingsgate. But she is wise,
and spite of her somewhat flippant tongue,
modest. I am not afraid she will go wrong,
no — spite of "
"What?" questioned Mr. Katzen, as the
elder man paused abruptly.
" Nothing — or rather, as you might attach
a wrong meaning to my sentence if I left it
unfinished, I will say, spite of her ante-
" You are aware, then, of the nature of her
" Thereby hangs a tale, I suppose."
" Which I have no intention of telling."
" I suspect you are wise."
" I suspect you have not the slightest
notion whether I am wise or foolish."
Mr. Katzen smiled.
" Come," he said, " don't let two good
friends quarrel. The subject of Miss Abi-
gail's grandpapa and grandmamma — shall
we put the doubtful relations back to that
" You can put them where you please,"
interrupted Mr. Brisco. " There is no ques-
Z94 MITRE COURT.
tion but that the Qfirl was born in lawful
" You know the fact for a certainty, do
" She is as legitimate as you are, I was
going to remark ; but — you must excuse the
awkwardness of my amendment — since I have
not the faintest notion of the circumstances
under which you came into the world — the
comparison might not be quite fair to
" You leave me untouched this time,"
answered Mr. Katzen. " My father and
mother were tied up tight enough in that
matrimonial knot even you English find it
sometimes hard enough to undo. Darby and
Joan, they are living still. Boy and girl,
they were betrothed ; young man and young
woman, they were married ; husband and wife,
they brought up a large family ; old man and
old woman, they yet pass in and out of the
same house they entered hand in hand bride
and bridegroom. No, Mr. Brisco ; Miss
Abigail's papa and mamma may have been
persons of higher social standing than the
parents of this poor foreigner ; but I confess,
"ABOUT ABIGAIL." 295
considering the circumstances under which
the dear child made her first appearance in
Botolph Lane, I should scarcely judge her to
be the lineal descendant of any belted earl."
Mr. Brisco looked straight in the speaker's
face, while he said gravely :
" So far as I am acquainted with Abigail
Weir's pedigree, there is no earl in it."
" But something better, perhaps ?"
" There was one honest man ; but he can
only be considered a very poor substitute,
spite of all our fine phrases concerning that
vara avis being the noblest work of God."
" Now, I wonder," considered Mr. Katzen,
" whether, after all, you have only been a very
sly old fox, receiving money for keeping our
sharp young friend out of the way."
The idea was so congenial and delightful,
that at once Mr. Brisco seemed to grow in
wisdom and in stature before the new Consul's
" I'll be bound that's the way of it," he
thought. "Wait a little, though ; now it
behoves me to be doubly cautious."
And even while his heart burned within
him, he managed to maintain absolute silence.
296 MITRE COURT.
"Well, Mr. Katzen," said his visitor, at
length. " Am I the unworthy subject of so
much conjecture ?"
" Yes and no," answered Mr. Katzen, ap-
parently waking up to the urgency of present
affairs. " I was thinking of you, but only in
connection with your strange charge ; for put
the matter as you will, Miss Weir is a strange
" She is one I did not seek."
" I believe that, utterly. I used often to
wonder why you took her in at all."
" That is a question which, in the former
days, often perplexed me."
"You did not like her, With half an eye
anyone could see that."
" No ; on the contrary — she was antago-
nistic to me."
" Yet you kept her out of pity."
" Perhaps — partly — I scarcely know why I
did allow her to stop."
" Yes, I guessed that. The whole thing
used to puzzle me vastly — Miss Abby most
of the whole. She knew she was not wanted,
and, personally, I should not have imagined
the old house a palace likely to captivate a
"ABOUT A BIG A IL." 297
child's fancy ; nevertheless, having made up
her mind to stop, she stopped. I often
laughed, thinking how like a stray cat she
comported herself — satisfied with the poor
welcome of mere sufferance, making a great
feint of being greeted with effusion, keeping
out of the way as much as possible ; and when
forced to appear in evidence before you,
cringing into her small body, or else figura-
tively rubbing her head against table-legs and
chairs, and odd corners, as is the preliminary
form of conciliation first adopted by unwel-
come pussies. After a time, who so impudent
and familiar as the stray tabby ? How she
clamours for milk, and insists on meat ! How
she luxuriates before the fire, and selects the
softest pillow to stretch herself upon ; with
what ill-concealed impatience or lofty conde-
scension she receives the advances of friendly
strangers ! As I talk, I declare the likeness
deepens. Think of how scurvily Abigail now
treats her fellow-creatures ! Looking back*
I can scarcely imagine her to be the same
girl who at one time, when surprised or fright-
ened, had every tone and trick and gesture of
29S MITRE COURT.
" She was never a street-Deodar, sir."
" Your pardon, I never said she was — only
that she acted the part most excellently well.
However, that has nothing to do with the
matter in hand ; we had best let bygones be
bygones, and only think of Miss Abigail as
we see her grown — bright, saucy, pretty.
Come, Mr. Brisco, though I dare say you
found out, long ago, that beauty is vanity,
and woman a snare — confess Abigail is pretty,
pretty enough to give some young fellow the
" I suppose she is," answered Mr. Brisco.
" Yes, I see she is."
" We are getting on — I am glad of that,"
said Mr. Katzen ; " and now you came here
to tell me something."
" I came here to ask whether you had made
that remark of yours haphazard or from
observation, and you will not answer me
" My good heavens ! dear friend, what
can you want more than I have said ? I
know no young man whose heart is aching ;
but reason assures me there must be one such
young man, if not more. Who he is — what
"ABOUT ABIGAIL." 299
he is — where he is, I have no more idea than
a baby; only he must be, I am sure of it. We
have all been young ; I have been young
If Mr. Katzen hoped to elicit any polite
remark from Mr. Brisco about his being
young still, he was disappointed.
" I dare say you were/' said Mr. Brisco
" but that does not help me much."
"No? — yet I think it might. The per-
son who is not too old to remember his teens
may prove of some service in disentangling
the vagaries of youth. Give me one end of
your skein, and let us see what we can do in
the way of unravelling it."
Again Mr. Brisco paused, then he said
" I have scarcely anything to speak about,
but yet "
"A straw shows how the wind blows, a
straw may enable me to help your — inex-
" Put it that way if you like. I am inex-
perienced in such matters. I do not profess
to know much about women — my knowledge
of girls is even less ; yet I confess the change
which has lately come over Abigail — though
but for you I admit I might have failed to see
it — appears to me extraordinary."
" I asked you before, ' as for example ?' —
and you took huff and would have walked
off had I not prayed you to remain. Now
we have come to a comprehension, however,
what is this metamorphosiswhich has removed
our dear rebellious maiden to a sphere not
recognisable ? If I met her, should I feel
constrained to ask, Can this be Abigail ?"
"The alteration might not strike you, but
it surprises me."
" Has her hair turned white in a single
night ? Has she lines across her forehead,
and have crow's-feet stamped their foul im-
print round her eyes ?"
" No ; but — 'you remember how she used
to sing ?"
" I remember, at any rate, how you used
to love to hear her sing," answered Mr. Kat-
"Well, if I tell you I should be glad to
hear her sing now, perhaps you will under-
stand the alteration a short time has sufficed
"ABOUT ABIGAIL" 301
" What, has Abigail ceased carolling ?"
asked the new Consul, genuinely surprised.
"And does she seem out of sorts, as you
phrase it ?"
" She is grave, if not sad."
"And all this has come about since my
"All this has come about since your depar-
" Perhaps she is pining for me."
" She may be," answered Mr. Brisco drily ;
but there was something in his tone which
suggested that he did not think it probable.
Mr. Katzen grinned appreciatively.
" I am right. Depend upon it," he said,
"Abigail misses her old playfellow. Ah, you
don't know, you never knew, what a com-
panion I was to our little friend ; and, my
faith ! what a companion she was to me too !
I can hear her screams of delight now when
she used to find where I had stolen away. It
was a rare house that of Sir Christopher's for
hide-and-seek I Once the young monkey led
me a pretty dance ! 'Twas in the dusk ; then
— after I had exhausted the premises and
302 MITRE COURT.
myself — she jumped out on me from the dog-
" 'Come, you awful child,' I cried, ' confess —
this is not the first time you crept in that hole.'
" She put her fingers in her mouth and
dropped her head and began rubbing the toe
of her right shoe backward and forward over
the stones — you know her trick — and would
have slunk off, only I held her fast.
'''How many nights,' I asked, 'did you
sleep in the dog-kennel before Mr. Brisco
found you in the cellar ?'
" ' Two,' she whispered.
"Great heavens! Think of it — think of
that wretched baq; of bones dmo-p-ins itself
under those steps and lying there hidden
while we were all groins backwards and
forwards ! Then consider how soon she
threw all the trouble off, and went laughing,
singing, dancing, about the rooms !"
For a moment Mr. Brisco had clenched his
hand tight, but he immediately opened it again.
" How r interesting," he remarked, "not to
say instructive, to hear of the many things
which have been going on under one's own
roof without one's own knowledge !"
ABOUT ABIGAIL? 303
"Very," agreed Mr. Katzen drily, "es-
pecially when one considers how numerous
are the incidents which may be enacting
now while one remains in a state of equal
Mr. Brisco looked straight in the new
Consul's face. "Again I ask you," he said,
" is there any meaning hidden behind your
"And again I answer, None, beyond what
you English talk so much about and really
value so little — -plain common-sense. If Miss
Abigail have got a lover, do you think it is
likely she will take you into confidence ?"
" It is not likely," confessed Mr. Brisco,
" and yet "
" Yet what ?"
"If she have got a lover, why should she
make a mystery of the matter ? I suppose
all girls get lovers. It is the common
" Faith, no ; I fancy you are wrong in that
conclusion. As one of your own beautiful
songs makes a neglected maid say —
" ' /never was guilty of refusing many,
For, the Lord knows my heart, I'd be thankful for any.'
304 MITRE COURT.
That is right. In the present imperfect state
of society there is not a Jack for every
Jill — besides, some Jills get too many
"After all," said Mr. Brisco, "Abigail's
thoughts may be tending in quite another
direction. It is possible she has grown
weary of the old house."
" Her weariness must be of very recent
date then," commented Mr. Katzen.
" The change is recent. Formerly, as you
know, she picked up scraps of learning in an
irregular, desultory manner. Without much
application she "
" Contrived to get herself wonderfully well
educated," finished Mr. Katzen.
" But yet not thoroughly, Now, however,
she is devoting every spare moment to the
acquisition of languages "
" Languages ! What languages ?"
" Well, amongst others — German "
" Ach Gott — that is good !" exclaimed Mr.
Katzen. " And she used to tell me it was
the tag, rag, and bobtail — the very dregs of
all the tongues confounded at Babel. ' No
other nation could be found to take it,' she
" ABOUT ABIGAIL:' 305
would say, ' and so the Germans were forced
to have that or nothing.'
" 4 My faith, the Germans have made some-
thing out of it since Babel,' I assured her ;
and then she mocked and cried, ' Bah !' '
" Relations between you do not appear,
even on your own showing, to have been
very cordial," remarked Mr. Brisco.
The new Consul shrugged his shoulders.
"Among friends, you know " he said,
and left his visitor to finish the sentence as
might seem to him best.
How Mr. Brisco did please to finish it
must for ever remain uncertain, as at that
instant Mr. Katzen's clerk entered to say a
gentleman was in the outer office who wished
to see the Consul for New Andalusia at once.
" I will call round," was Mr. Katzen's
cheering assurance as Mr. Brisco rose to
depart. " Do not disquiet yourself. The
little one and I understand each the other.
She will keep no secrets from me?'
END of vol. 1.
BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD.
G, C. fr Cc.